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Ten Common Myths about HIV/AIDS

Posted Apr 08 2010 9:09am

The information found in this post is based on resources available on the “Myths and Misinformation about HIV and AIDS” web page of AIDS Action Committee’s HIV Health Library.

Myth #1: HIV is the same as AIDS.

Fact: HIV and AIDS are two different things. HIV is the name of a virus – the human immunodeficiency virus.  The term AIDS is short for acquired immune deficiency syndrome.  An HIV-infected person is said to have an AIDS diagnosis when HIV has weakened their immune system to the extent that they either have, or are at unusually high risk of getting, certain diseases that are uncommon in persons with a healthy immune system. It is important to know that not all HIV-infect people develop AIDS.  Effective HIV treatment can often slow or stop the progression of HIV disease and keep a person from developing AIDS.

Myth #2: I’m straight and not a drug user. HIV/AIDS has nothing to do with me.

Fact: Unprotected sex between men and injection drug use are common ways people become with HIV.  However, a substantial number of HIV-infected men and most HIV-infected women are infected through heterosexual contact.

Myth #3: Living around HIV positive people can be very dangerous.

Fact: You can only get HIV if you are exposed to blood, semen, vaginal fluid, or mother’s milk from an HIV-infected person. There is no record of HIV transmission through tears or saliva.  So if you are around people infected with HIV, there is no danger of becoming infected with the virus by:

  • Breathing the same air as them.
  • Eating food handled, prepared, or served by them.
  • Sharing toilets, phones, or clothing with them.
  • Sharing forks, spoons, knives, or drinking glasses with them.
  • Touching, hugging or kissing them.

Myth #4: I can get HIV from mosquito bites.

Fact: Although HIV can be spread though blood, there is no evidence that mosquito bites can transmit HIV, even in areas where there are many HIV-infected persons and lots of mosquitoes. In fact, when mosquitoes bite, they don’t inject the blood of the person or animal they have last bitten.

Myth #5: I can’t get HIV from oral sex.

Fact: Oral sex is less risky than some other types of sex, but you can still get HIV by having oral sex with either a man or a woman who is infected with HIV. The risk of infection from a single encounter is small, but it increases with frequency of activity. Your risk of getting infected is also higher if there are open sores on the genitals and/or mouth, significant gum disease or bleeding, or direct contact between semen and breaks in the skin or surface of the mouth. The use of a latex barrier during oral sex can reduce the risk of HIV infection.

Myth #6: Not sharing hypodermic needles is adequate to prevent me from being infected with HIV.

Fact: Not sharing hypodermic needles is an important step for preventing HIV infection during injection drug use. However, just using clean needles is not enough. Injection drug users should also avoid sharing drug preparation equipment, such as cotton filters, cookers, and rinse water, since these can also spread HIV.

Myth #7: HIV-infected pregnant women always pass HIV on to their babies.

Fact: Mother-to-infant transmission is one way HIV can spread.  HIV-infected pregnant women who are not treated for the disease have about a one in four chance of passing the infection to their babies. When both mother and infant receive proper treatment and care before, during, and after birth, there is only about a 1 to 2% chance that an infected mother will pass HIV to her child.

Myth #8: AIDS is a death sentence.

Fact: In the 1980s, there was a very high death rate from AIDS. However, today there are many antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) that have improved the health and quality of life of  many people living with HIV. Thanks to ARVs and to high-quality medical care, many HIV-infected persons can now expect to live a long, healthy life.

Myth #9: Current medications can cure AIDS, so it’s no big deal if I get infected.

Fact: Today’s medications have cut the death rate from AIDS dramatically. They are also easier to take than the earlier ARVs. However, it is important to understand that the medications do not cure HIV infection. The drugs may still cause side effects, and they must be taken consistently for a person’s entire life. If a person misses too many doses, HIV can develop resistance to their medications, and the drugs may no longer work.

Myth #10: If I’m receiving treatment, I can’t spread the HIV virus.

Fact: When HIV treatment works well, it can reduce the amount of virus in a person’s blood to an “undetectable” level.  This means that the level of HIV is so low that it can’t be measured in usual blood tests. Nevertheless, small amounts of the virus still remain in the body. So even if a person has an undetectable viral level, it is still essential for them to practice safe sex and use clean needles and works if they are injecting drugs.  These steps will help keep them from passing HIV infection to others.

If you have any questions about the myths mentioned here or any other aspects of HIV/AIDS, please call AIDS Action’s HIV Health Library at (617) 450-1432 or our free HIV and STD Hotline at (800) 235-2331, or email: health@aac.org .
For more information about HIV/AIDS myths and misinformation, please see the Library’s special web page on the Myths and Misinformation about HIV and AIDS . For information about other topics discussed in this blog, you can check out our pages called HIV Prevention Basics and Basic Information about HIV and Treatment .

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