Dr. Victor Emanuel MD

Dr. Victor Emanuel MD

Many myths and misconceptions have surrounded HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) for nearly 30 years. In some cases, these mistaken ideas have prompted the very behaviors that cause more people to become HIV-positive. Although unanswered questions about HIV remain, researchers have learned a tremendous amount. Here are what might be considered the top ten myths about HIV, along with the facts to dispute them.

MYTH No. 1:    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 a 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 a mother’s breast milk.

Myth No. 2: I don’t need to worry about becoming HIV-positive – new drugs will keep me well.

It is true that antiretroviral drugs are improving and extending the lives of many people who are HIV-positive. The thing is that many of these drugs are expensive and produce serious side effects. None of them yet provides a cure. Also, drug-resistant strains of HIV make treatment an increasing challenge.

MYTH No. 3: 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. It does not complete a life cycle there, and as such cannot be transmitted by an insect bite or sting.

MYTH No. 4: I’m HIV-positive – my life is over.

In the early years of the disease epidemic, the death rate from AIDS was extremely high. But today, anti-retroviral drugs allow HIV-positive people – and even those with AIDS – to live much longer, normal , and productive lives.

MYTH: No. 5: AIDS is genocide

One study showed as many as 30% of African-Americans and Latinos expressed the view that HIV was a government conspiracy to kill minorities. Instead, higher rates of infection in these populations may be due, in part, to a lower level of health care.

MYTH No. 6: I’m straight and don’t use IV drugs – I won’t become HIV-positive

Most men do become HIV-positive through sexual contact with other men or through injection drug use. However, about 16% of men and 78% of women become HIV-positive through heterosexual contact. So generally, it is easier for a woman to acquire HIV from a man, than it is for a man to get it from a woman. Women should take particular note of this.

MYTH No. 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.

MYTH No. 8: My partner and I are both HIV-positive – there’s no reason for us to practice safer sex.

Practicing safer sex – wearing condoms or using dental dams – can protect you both from becoming exposed to other (potentially drug-resistant) strains of HIV.

MYTH No. 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.

MYTH No. 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 woman who is HIV-positive. Always use a latex barrier during oral sex.

See you soon. Be safe.