Home » Health and Wellness » Yes, You Can (and should) Get Massage if You’re HIV Positive
  • Yes, You Can (and should) Get Massage if You’re HIV Positive

    HIV diagnosis on blue folder with stethoscope

    A couple weeks ago, there were headlines about a politician who wanted to legally quarantine folks who are HIV positive. I almost blew a gasket when I read them. This lawmaker was a physician before getting into politics which made her statements even more appalling.

    You Cannot Contract HIV Through Casual Contact

    HIV is not easily communicable the way the common cold or the flu is. In fact, it’s easier to contract Hepatitis than it is to contract HIV. Good lord, didn’t we cover this back in the 80’s and 90’s?

    I had my first real-world exposure to this topic in the mid 80’s, at the the height of the AIDS scare, when I worked in a group home for developmentally disabled adults. As a direct caregiver, I was required to take a whole slew of trainings though Community Mental Health including ones about medications and communicable diseases. It was there that I learned that it was easier to get Hepatitis B from a carrier (someone who has the virus in their system but shows no symptoms of infection) than it was to get HIV. That was important information for 2 reasons: 1) The home I worked in had 2 men who were Hep B carriers, and 2) I was a single woman and all of my friends were single as well and HIV/AIDS was making a lot of headlines and scaring a lot of folks.

    Here’s what we know now about how the HIV virus is (and isn’t) passed on:

    • HIV is only transmissible through direct, internal contact with an infected intimate fluid.
      • An intimate fluid is defined as blood, semen, breast milk, and vaginal secretions.
    • Insects do not pass on the virus
    • The HIV virus is relatively delicate and disintegrates quickly outside of a host.
    • You cannot catch HIV through indirect contact with things like light switches and door knobs
    • HIV cannot be spread via saliva, sweat, or tears.
    • HIV is not airborne so you cannot catch it from someone coughing on you
    • HIV is not transmissible through pools and hot tubs.
    • Aside from contaminated needles or other skin piercing equipment; maternal transmission; contaminated blood, blood products, or transplanted organs; or unprotected sex, it’s practically impossible to transmit HIV to another person.

    Right to know

    Back at the height of the HIV/AIDS scare, allied health and human service fields talked about “Right To Know.” There were classes through Community Mental Health offices about this topic, in regards to not only the men and women we cared for but also our coworkers. Ultimately, we were told we did not have the right to know our clients’ or coworkers’ HIV or hepatitis status. We were supposed to be practicing universal precautions, now updated and known as standard precautions, so we should be in no danger of contracting either virus, even if one of them was bleeding and we would therefore be exposed to their blood. None of this was codified into law, however.

    Nowadays, federal law has very clear guidelines regarding personal health information. It has limits on who can see or access that information as well. Unless you tell someone you’re HIV positive, they have no way to find out.


    State laws about reporting HIV status to healthcare providers vary wildly and if you’re not in my state, Michigan, I urge you to check your own state’s laws. The Michigan Department of Community Health has compiled all of Michigan’s HIV-related laws into one convenient document. None of them pertain to massage therapy.

    At the end, however, they say this about federal law:

    There are a number of federal and state statutes that prohibit discrimination against someone who is HIV-infected, or believed to be HIV-infected. These include Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, the Americans with Disabilities Act ( ADA) of 1990, and the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act of 1976.

    These statutes provide that a person who is HIV-infected, or is believed to be HIV- infected, must be treated in a non-discriminatory manner as any non-HIV-infected person. Physicians and other health care workers cannot refuse to treat an HIV- infected person merely based on the patient’s HIV status, or because HIV infection may be perceived to increase health risks to the physician or health care worker. A physician, however, may refer an HIV-infected person to a specialist or physician experienced in treating such patients, if such medical care and treatment are needed by the patient.

    This is important, because in Michigan massage therapists are licensed as healthcare providers. This means that we cannot turn someone away simply because they are HIV positive. The chances of us coming into contact with semen or vaginal fluid should be nil – we should do nothing that will result in either fluid being discharged, and clients should not be leaving us “presents” on the sheets or in great quantities of tissues in the wastebasket. (If they do we treat it like a biohazard. Seriously. We also refuse to treat them again.) The chance of us coming into contact with a client’s blood is also practically nil – we ask that all clients cover their cuts and scratches with bandaids, and we cover our own with finger cots or liquid skin. We also use proper hygiene, i.e. standard precautions, which assumes that every client may have a blood-borne pathogen, whether they know it or not.

    One last thing: your massage therapist does not need to, and shouldn’t, wear gloves unless they have an open sore that cannot be covered with a finger cot or other more localized means of coverage. Good hygiene in the massage room, i.e. changing sheets, swabbing surfaces, washing hands, etc., is enough to prevent the spread of HIV.

    If you have HIV, you have more than enough stress. Go get a massage. You deserve it!