Can You Get HIV From a Mosquito Bite?

Mosquito feeding on a person's skin

J.J. Harrison / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

From the very start of the HIV epidemic, there have been concerns about the transmission of HIV through biting and bloodsucking insects, such as mosquitoes. It was a natural concern given that many diseases, such as malaria and Zika fever, are readily transmitted through an insect bite.

However, this is not the case with HIV. Epidemiological studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta have shown no evidence of HIV transmission through mosquitoes or any other insects, even in countries with extremely high rates of HIV and uncontrolled mosquito infestations. The lack of such outbreaks supports the conclusion that HIV cannot be transmitted by the insects.

Why HIV Cannot Be Transmitted Through Mosquitoes

From a biological perspective, mosquito bites do not result in blood-to-blood transmission (which would be considered the route of infection for a blood-borne virus like HIV). The mosquito trunk does not act as a syringe. Instead, it is made up of two one-way canals, one of which draws blood, while the other injects saliva and anticoagulants that enable the mosquito to feed more efficiently. As such, blood itself is not injected from person to person, and that's important for a number of reasons.

While diseases such as yellow fever and malaria are readily transmitted through the salivary secretions of certain species of mosquitoes, HIV does not have the ability to survive in insects, because they do not have the host cells (such as T-cells) the virus needs to replicate. Instead, the virus is digested within the mosquito's gut, along with the blood cells on which the insect feeds, and destroyed quickly.

HIV may survive for a very short period of time in a mosquito stomach. Does that mean killing a mosquito carrying blood poses a risk? The answer is also no. It is virtually impossible to become infected by contact with the HIV virus after it has reached open air. Not only that, but the infinitesimal quantity of virus that a mosquito might carry would make transmission invariably impossible. In order to ensure viability, it would take around 10 million mosquitoes—all simultaneously biting—to enable transmission to a single person.

Bottom line, HIV transmission can only occur under four specific conditions. If any of these conditions are not satisfied, the likelihood of infection is considered negligible to nil:

  • There must be a body fluid (blood, semen, or breast milk) in which HIV can thrive. It cannot thrive in saliva, urine, sweat, or feces.
  • There must be a route by which the virus can readily enter the body, either through vulnerable mucosal tissues or direct blood-to-blood transmission.
  • There must be an ample quantity of HIV to affect infection. We know, for example, that the lower a person's viral load, the lower the risk of infection.

Because it meets none of these conditions, HIV transmission through mosquito bites is considered impossible.

Types of Mosquito-Borne Diseases

While mosquitoes pose no threat of HIV transmission, there are other types of diseases associated with mosquito bites. Among them:

Mosquitoes are known to carry many classes of infectious diseases, including viruses and parasites.

Mosquitoes are estimated to transmit disease to more than 700 million people each year, resulting in millions of resulting deaths. These disease outbreaks are most commonly seen in Africa, Asia, Central America, and South America, where disease prevalence, temperate climates, and lack of mosquito control provide greater opportunity for the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.

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