For approximately 30 years, HIV and AIDS have been shrouded in a cloud of myths and misconceptions. Sometimes, these mistaken ideas have even prompted behaviors that cause more people to become HIV-positive. Included are some of the most common myths about HIV, as well as information to dispute them.
Myth: HIV can be cured.
Currently, there is no cure for HIV. Science has made great strides in HIV care. And, with treatment, infected people can reduce their viral load (amount of HIV in the blood) to the point that it is undetectable. Having an undetectable viral load helps prevent AIDS and other infections.
Myth: I cannot get HIV from tattoos or body piercing.
If tattoo and piercing tools are not sterilized properly between clients, HIV transmission is a definite possibility. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that tools which cut the skin should be used once, then thrown away or sterilized between uses.
Be sure to ask the right questions before getting a tattoo or having your body pierced in order to find out what steps the facility takes to prevent HIV and other infections (e.g., hepatitis B and hepatitis C).
Myth: I don’t need to get tested. I’d be able to tell if I had HIV/AIDS.
This is not true. The only way to know if you are HIV positive is to be tested for the HIV infection. You cannot rely on symptoms to know whether or not you are infected. Some people who are infected with HIV do not have any symptoms at all for 10 years or more (a.k.a. the latency period).
Myth: If my man had HIV, I'd be able to tell.
It can take 10 years for symptoms of HIV to show up. There may be a long period of time where someone has HIV but has no signs or symptoms. However, transmission can occur during this time. The only way to fully protect oneself from sexually transmitted HIV is to not have sex of any kind. Women can reduce their chances of HIV transmission by using a condom each time they have sex.
Myth: Since I am HIV positive, I will pass HIV on to my baby if I get pregnant.
A woman who knows about her HIV infection early in pregnancy and is treated has about a 2 percent chance of having a baby with HIV. Without treatment, this risk is significantly higher. All pregnant women should be tested for HIV.
The CDC recommends that an HIV-infected woman in the United States should not breastfeed her baby because the virus may be passed to an infant via breastmilk.
Myth: Both my partner and I have HIV. Therefore, we do not need to use a condom.
This is false. There are different strains (types) of HIV. Even if you have HIV, you could become infected with a different type from what you already have, such as one of the drug-resistant strains of HIV. This, of course, would limit treatment options. Even if you and your partner are HIV positive, be sure to use a condom every time you have any kind of sex.
Myth: I have HIV. I don’t need to start drug therapy until I get very sick.
Even when you're feeling great, HIV is making copies of its cells and attacking your body. When you finally start feeling sick, HIV has already damaged your immune system to the extent that nothing can bring it back to normal.
To protect your immune system, experts recommend that infected persons start HIV medicines before becoming very ill. Since these drugs reduce "viral load," or the amount of virus in the blood, they also reduce the chances of passing HIV to others.
However, taking HIV treatment is not a 100 percent guarantee that you will not infect others. Regular checkups will help you and your doctor decide the best time for you to start treatment.
Myth: Women can't give men HIV.
This is not true. HIV does not live long outside the body. So, a man's penis is only exposed to HIV for the time that it is in a vagina or rectum. HIV can enter at the opening of the tip and through cuts or sores on the shaft. And, if a partner has an untreated STD like gonorrhea or chlamydia, the risk is higher.
These infections can cause breaks in the skin, thereby increasing the risk of passing HIV. Women do have a higher risk of getting HIV from men because HIV is in the man's semen, which can stay in the woman's vagina for days.
Myth: HIV is synonymous with AIDS.
HIV is the virus that leads to AIDS. A person is considered to have AIDS when his or her CD4 count drops below 200 or when he or she has certain infections or AIDS related cancers. A person can have HIV for years without having AIDS. Having HIV does not mean you have AIDS.
Myth: I can become infected with HIV/AIDS from casual contact with an HIV infected person.
The evidence shows that HIV is not spread through casual contact, such as touch, nor can it be transmitted through tears, sweat, or saliva. Therefore, you cannot catch HIV by:
• Standing near someone who is HIV-positive
• Touching a toilet seat or doorknob handle after an HIV-positive person
• An HIV-positive person coughing or sneezing near you
• Drinking from a water fountain
• Breathing the same air as someone who is HIV-positive
• Hugging, kissing, or shaking hands with someone who is HIV-positive
• Using exercise equipment at a gym
You can, however, become infected from HIV from certain infected bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluid, or mother's milk.
HIV/AIDS Basics. Web. Cdc.gov. Accessed 2 Oct. 2011
Myths About HIV/Aids. Web. Womenshealth.gov. Accessed 2 Oct. 2011
Reviewed October 5, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith