Columbia University Medical Center
Ranked #1 in Psychiatry
U.S. News & World Report
Ranked #1 in Research Funding
National Institutes of Health
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital The University Hospital of Columbia and Cornell

Ask the Experts


Am I being a hypochondriac? A homeless man shook my hand a couple days ago because I gave him some money. Afterwards, I got scared because the day before, I got a superficial cut about a quarter of an inch long on my index finger. I didn’t see any wounds on the man or fluids on my hand, but I think the man was a drug user, perhaps because of his teeth and the burn scars on his hand. I got home 15 minutes later and washed my hands with peroxide and alcohol, worried that I might be at risk for HIV. If this man was HIV+, what are the chances that I am now HIV+?

Answered by: Anke Ehrhardt

Since HIV/AIDS is a serious illness, it can be natural to be concerned about the possibility of infection. However, in general, HIV is not an easily transmitted virus. HIV is not passed along by non-sexual routine or household contact. Thus, your risk of infection in this scenario is non-existent; if HIV could be transmitted that easily, the entire world would be infected by now!

To better acquaint yourself with misconceptions and realities concerning HIV transmission, you may wish to visit the HIV transmission section of the website of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (, which offers answers to commonly asked questions. You could also check the HIV transmission Q&A board at the comprehensive website The Body (

If you find that you are experiencing excessive, persistent, or unwarranted fears of HIV infection, please consult a qualified mental health care provider who can help you understand and address the underlying causes of your concerns.