Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the immune system. HIV can cause acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), a disease that severely weakens immunity, and can be fatal. One person passes HIV to another under certain circumstances. Understanding the facts rather than buying into lingering myths about transmission can prevent misinformation—and HIV—from spreading.
Because misinformation is one of the cruelest and most dangerous illness.
1. “HIV/AIDS is a death sentence.”
In the 1980s and early 1990s, there was little to no treatment available and the AIDS death rate was very high. Now, over thirty medications have been approved by the U.S. government to fight HIV and AIDS, with many more in development.
2. “I can get HIV by being around people who are HIV-positive.”
The evidence shows that HIV is not spread through touch, tears, sweat, or saliva. You cannot catch HIV by: Breathing the same air as someone who is HIV-positive Touching a toilet seat or doorknob handle after an HIV-positive person Drinking from a water fountain Hugging, kissing, or shaking hands with someone who is HIV-positive Sharing eating utensils with an HIV-positive person Using exercise equipment at a gym You can get it from infected blood, semen, vaginal fluid, or mother’s milk.
3. “I don’t need to worry about becoming HIV positive — new drugs will keep me well.”
Yes, antiretroviral drugs are improving and extending the lives of many people who are HIV-positive. However, many of these drugs are expensive and produce serious side effects. None yet provides a cure. Also, drug-resistant strains of HIV make treatment an increasing challenge.
4. “People who have HIV cannot have sex with people who do not have HIV.”
The truth is many people who have HIV have sexual relations with HIV-negative people. Condoms weren’t meant to protect negative people from other negative people! Condoms are one part of prevention, but another big part of HIV prevention is called “treatment as prevention.” That means an HIV-positive person can lower their chance of transmitting the virus, by up to 96%, by simply taking their meds.
5. “It’s okay to have unprotected sex if you and your partner are both positive.”
Many people are unaware of HIV superinfection, which happens when an HIV-positive person is infected by a second strain of HIV. HIV can evolve differently in each person’s body; if it mutates, a different strain can emerge. Using condoms and taking HIV meds, like we discussed before, helps keep this worry at bay.
6. “I can get HIV from mosquitoes.”
Because HIV is spread through blood, people have worried that biting or bloodsucking insects might spread HIV. Several studies, however, show no evidence to support this — even in areas with lots of mosquitoes and cases of HIV. When insects bite, they do not inject the blood of the person or animal they have last bitten. Also, HIV lives for only a short time inside an insect.
7. “If I’m receiving treatment, I can’t spread the HIV virus.”
When HIV treatments work well, they can reduce the amount of virus in your blood to a level so low that it doesn’t show up in blood tests. Research shows, however, that the virus is still “hiding” in other areas of the body. It is still essential to practice safe sex so you won’t make someone else become HIV-positive.
8. “I heard there’s a cure out there that’s being withheld.”
Now more than ever, HIV cure chatter is starting to bring hope to a lot of people. Though it is good to talk about the HIV cure, we have to realize that that is something that will be solved in a laboratory, and there’s a lot to do on the ground for those living with HIV or at-risk for infection. There are hundreds of doctors looking into an HIV cure, and they’re not working for something that already exists!
9. “I could tell if my partner was HIV-positive.”
You can be HIV-positive and not have any symptoms for years. The only way for you or your partner to know if you’re HIV-positive is to get tested.
10. You can’t get HIV from oral sex.
It’s true that oral sex is less risky than some other types of sex. But you can get HIV by having oral sex with either a man or a woman who is HIV-positive. Always use a latex barrier during oral sex.