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Survival of HIV in the Environment

Concerning the survival of HIV in the environment, two facts are:

  • HIV does not survive well outside the body.

  • HIV has to be grown in large amounts to be studied in laboratories.

Although HIV has been kept alive or viable under certain laboratory conditions, medical authorities agree that the virus does not survive well in the environment. To put things into perspective, 1 milliliter of blood from a hepatitis B-infected person may contain more than 100 million infectious viral particles. In a dried state, hepatitis B virus, or HBV, may remain viable on surfaces for up to 1 week, and possibly longer. In contrast to the very high concentrations of HBV, the concentrations of HIV in the blood of infected persons are much lower. Estimates of the number of infectious viral particles range from a few hundred to approximately 10,000 per milliliter.

CDC laboratory studies have shown that drying HIV reduces the viral amounts by 90 to 99 percent within several hours. The concentrations of HIV used in some laboratory studies have produced results that have been used to alarm people unnecessarily. The results are not meaningful because: 1) the concentrations of HIV used were many times greater than that found in patient specimens; 2) the amounts of virus studied are not found in nature; and 3) no one has been infected with HIV due to contact with an environmental surface.

Neither HBV nor HIV are able to reproduce outside the human body, unlike bacteria or fungi which do so under suitable conditions. In laboratory studies of HIV and HBV, it was biologically necessary for these viruses to infect specific human or primate cells to complete their life cycles and thereby reproduce themselves.

If you have questions about HIV infection and AIDS, please call the CDC National AIDS Hotline at our tollfree number, 1-800-342-2437. If you wish to write to someone regarding this subject, please address your comments to us at the CDC National AIDS Clearinghouse, P.O. Box 6003, Rockville, Maryland, 20849-6003.

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