5 Common Myths About HIV and AIDS

By Ashley Henshaw. Medically reviewed by Tom Iarocci, MD. May 7th 2016

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a very serious virus, while acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the final stage of HIV. There are many myths aboutHIV and AIDS that have been spread around over the years.

Being mindful of the truths and realities of HIV and AIDS can help to dispel some of these myths. Prevention hinges not only on education, but also on actually avoiding the identified factors, such as having multiple partners and a lack of safe practices for intimacy.

Myth #1

Being a co-worker or friend to someone with HIV increases your risk.

You can't get AIDS by sharing office space, shaking hands, using the same chair, the same phone, toilet seat, or even living in the same house as someone with the disease. HIV is transmitted through sexual activity or through the sharing of needles in intravenous drug use.

Myth #2

Today, treatments for HIV restore full health.

If you’ve contracted HIV, life is certainly not over. In fact, people in resource-rich nations can expect to live about as long as their uninfected counterparts, according to studies.

But life expectancy is only one measure of health, and experts emphasize caution and prevention.

HIV-infected adults today still have extra risk of heart, liver, kidney, bone, and neurologic diseases (including dementia), possibly due to factors such as systemic inflammation and an increased tendency toward blood clotting (hypercoagulable state). And while effective treatments are available today, people still die from AIDS. In the United States, 15,000 people with AIDS died in 2010, according to the CDC.

Myth #3

Pregnant women with HIV usually pass it to their babies.

With antiretroviral therapy, risk of transmission of HIV from a mother to her baby is as low as 1 to 2 percent. Without any treatment, the rate of transmission in the United States ranges from 16 to 25 percent.

That’s why routine HIV testing is such an important part of public health efforts, and that’s also why all pregnant women are encouraged to have this test, even though most may turn up negative. Pregnant women with HIV can only protect their babies if they know their status and access treatment.

Myth #4

It’s not possible to get HIV from a tattoo or body piercing.

According to the CDC, tattooing or body piercing have a potential risk of HIV transmission, but no cases have been documented. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are also potentially transmitted through needles or piercings.

To reduce your risks, seek only licensed tattoo artists who wash their hands, use sterile needles, and use proper techniques and procedures. Look for established and reputable businesses.

Myth #5

HIV is only spread through homosexual contact and injection drug use.

While these factors do pose a risk of HIV transmission, according to the CDC, 25 percent of all new HIV cases in 2010 were transmitted through heterosexual contact. HIV disproportionately affects African Americans and Hispanic/Latinos, as well as young people aged 13-24.

Only blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids and breast milk from an HIV-infected person can transmit HIV. Transmission requires the fluid from the HIV-infected person has access to the next individual, such as through a mucous membrane, cut, small scrape or needle stick. Women are at greater risk of getting HIV from men, in part, because HIV is in the semen, which can stay within the woman’s reproductive tract for days.

Next Steps

If there is concern about possible exposure to HIV, get tested. The CDC recommends that everyone get tested for HIV at least once. Knowing your HIV or AIDS status is one of the best ways of preventing the spread of the virus to others and to protect your health. Ask your doctor or contact a local health clinic for information about getting tested for HIV.

Also, independent of the types of sexual contact, individuals who have a substance abuse problem are vulnerable to HIV and other disease – their addiction can lead to disregard for their own health and safety. If you or someone you love has a drug or alcohol problem, or engages in reckless, self-destructive behavior, get professional help.

More in category

Related Content