Myths About HIV
There are many myths about HIV. A myth is a story or an idea that is not true. In dealing with HIV, it’s important to know reality from myth. Believing myths can result in fear, in denial, and even in damage to your health.
Myths about HIV and HIV Treatment
- The myth: “HIV doesn’t cause AIDS.”
- The reality: If you don’t have HIV, you don’t get AIDS. If you have AIDS, you have HIV. Over 20 years of solid scientific proof have verified this. AIDS is not caused by party drugs, AZT, government conspiracies, or anything else but the HIV virus.
- The myth: “It’s not AIDS that kills people; it’s the medicines they take!”
- The reality: HIV medications, known as antiretrovirals, don’t cure HIV, but they can help keep people healthy for many years. People died from AIDS before antiretrovirals became available. Since combination drug therapy for HIV was begun in 1996, the average life expectancy for HIV+ people in Europe and North America has increased. In addition, death rates for HIV+ people who receive combination antiretroviral treatment has dropped. Unfortunately, the HIV drugs do have side effects and toxicity (for some people) that can be life-threatening in very rare cases. The good news is that many of the newer HIV medications have fewer side effects and are easier to take.
Myths about HIV Tests
- The myth: The ‘AIDS test’ can’t be trusted. €
- The reality: The ‘AIDS test’ measures HIV antibodies. If you are infected, your immune system will make antibodies against HIV. The HIV antibody test (called ELISA or EIA) is one of the most reliable medical tests. Before you get the results, the test has usually been done two or more times. Before a positive antibody test result is reported, it is confirmed by another test called a Western Blot. According to the CDC, the combined accuracy of the antibody test plus the Western Blot is greater than 99 percent.
- The myth: Viral load tests don’t really tell anything about a person’s health. €
- The reality: Viral load measures the amount of HIV in a person’s blood. Many studies have shown that people with high viral loads are much more likely to become ill or die than those with low viral loads.
Myths about HIV Transmission
- The myth: “Straight people don’t get HIV.”
- The reality: The majority of HIV+ people worldwide are straight (heterosexual). Men infect women, and women infect men. Risk is not about labels, it is about behavior. Any person who has unprotected sex with someone whose HIV status is not definitely known is at risk for HIV.
- The myth: “I’m safe because I’m in a monogamous relationship (or married).”
- The reality: Were you tested for HIV before you got into the relationship? Was your partner? Were both tests negative? And do you spend 24 hours a day together? If you’re faithful, but he or she is not, or he or she was already HIV+ before you met, you can still get HIV.
- The myth: “I’m safe because I’m a virgin.”
- The reality: Virgin is just a label. If you have had no sexual contact at all, you’re not at risk through sexual transmission. If you have had oral or anal sex, but consider yourself a ‘virgin’ because you haven’t had vaginal sex, you are still at risk.
- The myth: “Lesbians don’t get HIV.”
- The reality: Women who only have sex with women are generally at much lower risk for getting any sexually transmitted disease. But in rare cases, they can still get HIV. One report tells of a lesbian who was infected through sharing sex toys with an HIV+ woman. Also, some women who consider themselves lesbians occasionally have sex with men, and can get infected that way. Lesbians who use drugs and share needles can get HIV from a needle that has been used by someone who is HIV+.
- The myth: HIV can be spread through tears, sweat, mosquitoes, pools, or casual contact. €
- The reality: HIV can only be transmitted through infected blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. The most common ways for HIV to be transmitted are through unprotected sexual contact and/or sharing needles with an HIV+ person. HIV can also be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding.
The following bodily fluids are NOT infectious:
Casual contact is not considered risky because it does not include contact with blood or other infectious body fluids. Examples of casual contact include: social kissing, public venues (pools, theaters, bathrooms), sharing drinks or eating utensils, etc. Insect bites do not transmit HIV.
Myths about Clinical Trials
- The myth: Clinical trials are unsafe. If I enroll in a study, I won’t be allowed to leave it if I don’t like it. €
- The reality: You are always in control. You can quit any study you participate in at any time for any reason. In some African-American and Latino communities, people know about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which was conducted before the government established strong ethical guidelines for the conduct of clinical trials. The US government now has strict rules and regulations that all government and drug company researchers must follow to protect participants in clinical trials. (See The Well Project info sheets on clinical trials).
Myths about HIV are very dangerous. They can cause you to be afraid of something that is not dangerous. And they can make you feel like something is not dangerous when it really is!
So be careful. Sometimes seemingly well-informed or well-meaning people give out wrong information. If you have a question about HIV, talk to your health care provider or your local AIDS organization.