Top 10 HIV Myths

A young woman looking up as she thinks about something

The HIV/AIDS epidemic in the African American community made its “debut” in the early 1980’s and is entering its third decade as one of this country’s most critical and challenging health issue. Among African Americans, HIV/AIDS has produced especially grave outcomes.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics 2006 Report, HIV/AIDS is one of the top 10 leading causes of death for African Americans; and in the same year African Americans accounted for more than half (54 percent) of estimated new HIV infections in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that a quarter of those living with HIV, more than 250,000 do not know they are infected.

Shortly after HIV/AIDS hit the scene, rumors about it flew throughout the world. “You can get it by kissing.” “You can get it by holding hands.” “It is airborne.”

Throughout the years, most of the HIV myths have been dispelled, but it seems as though there are still a few rumors afloat. Since nearly half of all new HIV infections occur in the African American community, these myths may be standing in the way of proper protection. See if you can sort the truth from the most common myths about HIV.

1. If you test positive for HIV, you will inevitably die from AIDS.

FALSE. In the early years, an HIV diagnosis often meant the infected person would develop AIDS and die from complications of the disease within a matter of years, but this is no longer true. Medications, combined with lifestyle changes and complementary therapies that support the body’s ability to keep the virus in check, can keep an HIV-infected person from developing AIDS or the fatal complications associated with it for many years.

2. You can catch HIV from a toilet seat.

FALSE. The HIV virus cannot be transmitted by casual contact, from a toilet seat, a doorknob, a fork, or a handshake, for that matter. The only known HIV transmission methods include unprotected sex, intravenous drug use, exposure to blood or bodily fluids from an infected person, from mother to child in pregnancy, and through blood transfusions if the blood came from an HIV infected person. (Transmission of the virus did happen through blood transfusions or blood products in the 1980s before HIV testing became routine for all donated blood, but is highly unlikely to happen in a modern medical facility.)

3. There is a cure for HIV.

FALSE. There are medications available to suppress the virus in infected individuals and to lower their viral load. Such treatments can prolong or prevent the development of AIDS for years or even a lifetime. However, researchers have not found a cure for HIV that would eliminate the virus from an infected person’s body entirely.

 4. People have been infected with HIV from taking the HIV test itself.

FALSE. Some claim that the HIV test itself can give you the virus. But unless a clinic reuses a needle that was previously used on someone with HIV (a highly unlikely scenario that has never been reported), there is no way that testing for HIV could cause the infection.

5. You can spread or get HIV through oral sex.

TRUE. One myth HIV experts often hear is that HIV can’t be spread or contracted through oral sex. This is not true. If the person performing oral sex has a cut or abrasion in their mouth and comes in contact with HIV-infected bodily fluids, they can become infected with the virus just as they could having unprotected vaginal or anal sex. Using a dental dam or condom during oral sex greatly diminishes this risk.

6. If both you and your partner have HIV, it’s safe to have unprotected sex with one another.

FALSE. If you and your partner both test positive for the HIV virus, that doesn’t mean you can ignore the diagnosis or live life just as you did before your diagnosis. To best decrease your odds of developing AIDS, you should both work closely with a medical professional to manage the illness. You also both need to take whatever precautions you can to prevent exposing others to the HIV virus. This includes not having unprotected sex or sharing needles with anyone, taking proper precautions to contain and warn others about exposure to your bodily fluids (such as when you’re bleeding), and following any other advice from your HIV care team. Nobody with HIV can afford to ignore his or her diagnosis for their own sake, or for the sake of others who could be exposed to the virus.

7. Mosquitoes can spread HIV.

FALSE. While mosquitoes can spread a number of illnesses such as West Nile Virus or malaria, there are no known cases of HIV transmission through mosquito bites. If mosquitoes could transmit the HIV virus, there would be many more cases among young children, adolescents and other people who would otherwise be at low risk for HIV exposure.

8. You’ll automatically know it if you have HIV.

FALSE. People who are infected with HIV don’t necessarily “feel” sick; it’s possible to have the HIV virus for some time before developing any symptoms. HIV testing is the only way to determine whether someone has HIV or not.

9. If you’re taking medication for HIV, you can’t spread the virus.

FALSE. Even while taking medication, a person with HIV can still infect others if they have unprotected sex, share needles, or expose others to their blood or other bodily fluids.

10. HIV and AIDS may not be caused by the same virus.

FALSE. Some claim HIV and AIDS are not caused by the same virus. This is not true. Without treatment, the HIV virus will probably progress to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), which is essentially a collapse of the immune system. However, with HIV treatment, most people living with the virus are able to prolong or prevent the development of AIDS.