Myths About HIV and AIDS: Misconceptions & Rumors

Myths About HIV and AIDS: Misconceptions & Rumors

There are a lot of HIV myths. A myth is a type of idea or story that is not true. When it comes to dealing with HIV, it is very important that you are able to tell what is a myth and what is reality. When you believe in a myth, then you can cause fear and denial which may damage your health.

HIV & Treatment Myths

“AIDS is not caused by HIV.”

The truth: HIV does cause AIDS. You cannot get AIDS from AZT, party drugs, various government conspiracies, or anything other than the HIV virus. If you have AIDS, then you do have HIV. If you do not have HIV, then you can’t get AIDS. This is something that has been verified over and over for more than 30 years of scientific proof that is solid.

“HIV & AIDS was invented”

The truth: There is not any evidence that has shown that HIV or AIDS was created in a lab and there is no evidence that has ever suggested that HIV is a type of government conspiracy. HIV and AIDS is not caused by a getting bit by a mosquito, party drugs, or AZT. HIV is a virus that can be transmitted by body fluids like breast milk, semen, blood and vaginal fluid.

“HIV means you are going to die.”

The truth: This was something that was true. During the late 1980s and most of the 1990s, there was not a lot of information about how to treat people who had AIDS or HIV. Because there was not a lot of knowledge, no effective medication and a lot of fear, most people who were diagnosed with AIDS or HIV did die. Luckily, this is not the case anymore. Now there are better HIV drugs and more of them as well. If you are taking care of your body and sticking to your treatment regimen, then you are able to live a long and full life while having HIV.

“There is a cure for AIDS & HIV.”

The truth: There is not a cure for HIV as of this time, yet there is a lot of research that is trying to find one. The research has been based on cases that have provided clues and hope for a potential cure. The Berlin patient is a rare circumstance. A man was diagnosed in 1995 and received a stem cells from an HIV resistant donor in 2007 after a bone marrow transplant. This patient is now HIV negative. This patient is a very rare case as there is not a cure as of this moment.

“AIDS doesn’t kill people. It is the medications.”

The truth: Antiretrovirals, or HIV drugs won’t cure HIV, but they are able to help those who have HIV live a healthy life for many years. People who die from AIDS did so before many antiretrovirals were available. However, because of this new therapy started in 1996, the average expectancy of life for people who have HIV has really increased. Additionally, the death rates have dropped. Although, there will always rare cases, because HIV drugs do have side effects which can be threatening to life. The good news is that most of the newer medications have few to no side effects and are much easier to take.

“Its okay to take a drug holiday because the newer HIV medication is stronger”

The truth: There are going to be some people who may want to stop taking their medications for a short time because they feel better, having side effects or just want to take a break from being reminded that they have HIV. Studies have shown that taking a break from your medications can cause a lot of issues. When you stop HIV medications you can cause the HIV to multiply and that causes your viral load to go up. It can cause the virus to develop a resistance to your medications so that they won’t work anymore. They can also cause the CD4 cell count to drop and weaken your immune system. There are several studies that have shown that when you keep taking your medication like you are supposed, then you will stay healthy longer.

HIV Test Myths

“You cannot trust the AIDS test.”

The truth: The AIDS test is just a test for HIV which measures the antigens of HIV and the antibodies in HIV, which are types of proteins that your body will produce when you have an infection. If you happen to have HIV, then your immune system will start creating antibodies. The combined antibody-antigen tests which are called 4th generation tests will be able to detect the HIV virus accurately up to 99% to 100% of the time. However, if the result does come back positive, then the CDC will recommend that it be confirmed by using the HIV-1/HIV-2 antibody differentiation immunoassay. This will be able to confirm the first test, but it can even tell what type of HIV a person has. Even though rapid HIV tests are convenient because they are able to produce results in 20 minutes. Although, getting a false positive is really rare, it can happen. A positive result from a rapid test is considered to be a preliminary result and will need to be confirmed by another HIV test. If you want more information on which HIV test is going to be right for you, then check out this Types of HIV Testing fact sheet.

“Viral load tests can’t tell about someone’s health.”

The truth: Viral load is a measurement of just how much HIV is located in the blood. There are a lot of studies that have shown that people who have high viral loads are more likely to die or become severely ill than those who have lower viral loads. A viral load count can provide important information about how HIV medications are working.

HIV Transmission Myths

“If you have AIDS then you look sick.”

The truth: People who have HIV do not feel sick or look sick. Most of the time, they don’t even know that they have the virus. The only way to know for sure is to take an HIV test. It is impossible to know if a person has HIV or not, unless they decide to disclose their status to you.

“You can’t get HIV if you are straight.”

The truth: Many people who have HIV are straight or heterosexual. Men transmit the virus to women, and then women transmit the virus to men. Risk is not about categories or labels of people. Any person who decides to have unprotected sex, meaning sex without barrier methods like condoms or without treatment-as-prevention methods) or a person who decides to share injection equipment or needles (tattoos, injection drugs, hormones, diabetics, etc.) with someone can put themselves at risk for getting HIV.

“I can’t get HIV because I am married or in a monogamous relationship.”

The truth: Often people who are living with HIV don’t look sick. It is important to know that the HIV status of your partner before having unprotected sex. In a perfect world, if you and your partner have tested negative for HIV and remained monogamous after 3 months after an exposure, then unprotected sex is safe. However, if your partner has HIV and is not taking HIV medications, is sexually faithful but is sharing drug equipment or needles or injecting drugs or is having sex outside of your relationship, then you are going to be at risk for getting HIV. Never confuse commitment or love with being safe from HIV.

If you don’t know what your partner’s status is, and prefer not or cannot use a condom, then you might want to consider taking Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis or PrEP. This means that you are going to take HIV medications while being HIV negative in order to reduce the chances that you will get HIV if you happen to be exposed to it. It is also vital that you know that whenever a person has HIV and is taking medications and the viral load has reached levels where it is undetectable, meaning there isn’t enough of the virus to be measured, then that person can’t transmit the virus to someone who is HIV negative.

“I’m over 50, so I’m too old to get HIV. HIV isn’t something that affects my generation.”

The truth: Age will not protect you from getting HIV. People who are over 50, tend to get HIV quicker these days. Based on information from UNAIDS, in 2014 over 4 million adults over 50 were living with HIV all over the world. Unfortunately, older people are often ignored when it comes to discussions about HIV care and prevention, so they are not aware that they are at risk. For more information on this, look at our Older Women: At Risk for HIV fact sheet.

“I can’t get HIV if I’m on birth control.”

The truth: HIV can be spread during unprotected sex. Many forms of birth control will only protect against pregnancy, not sexually transmitted diseases or infections like HIV. The only form of birth control that will prevent pregnancy and reduces risk of HIV is a condom. For more tips on how to make sex safer, check out the Safer Sex fact sheet.

“I’m a virgin so I’m safe from HIV.”

The truth: If you haven’t had any sexual contact, then you are not at risk for getting HIV from sex. Yet, if you happened to share drug equipment or needles, then you are at risk. If you have had anal or oral sex and consider yourself a virgin because you haven’t had vaginal sex, then you are at risk. While oral sex is considered to be low risk, it can be a risk under certain circumstances such as your partner having bleeding gums. Anal sex is high risk. To learn more about risks from sex, check out Oral Sex: What’s the Real Risk? page.

“I can’t get HIV because I’m a lesbian.”

The truth: Even though it isn’t common for a woman to transmit HIV during sex to another woman, lesbians are still at risk for getting HIV. There’s plenty of reports of lesbians who have gotten HIV through sharing toys with HIV positive women or having rougher sex. Many women who consider themselves to be lesbians have had sex with men and gotten HIV that way. Lesbians who share drug injection equipment or use drugs can get HIV from a syringe or needle that has been used by someone with HIV.

“You can spread HIV through casual contact, pools, mosquitoes, sweat and tears.”

The truth: HIV can only be transmitted through infected breast milk, vaginal fluids, semen, and blood. The most common way to get HIV is through sharing drug equipment and/or having unprotected sex with someone who has HIV. HIV can also be passed to a baby from the mother during pregnancy, birth or breast feeding.

“I can’t have children because I have HIV.”

The truth: With HIV medications and proper health care, women who have HIV can have healthy pregnancies. There are a lot of things to be done to prevent transmitting HIV to your baby and partner. Advances in treatment have lowered the chances that mothers pass HIV to the baby. If a mother takes HIV medication as prescribed and is virally suppressed, then the chances of spreading HIV to the baby is 1 in 100, based on data from the CDC.

“It’s fine to have unprotected sex if we both have HIV.”

The truth: Unprotected sex between people who have HIV can cause them to be infected with a different strain of HIV. This is called reinfection or a superinfection. This can happen even if you are with the person who gave you HIV. HIV will change different in people over time. If the strain that your partner had originally, may not be the same that they have now. Different strains can be drug-resistant, which makes it hard to treat. Practicing safer sex can protect you from reinfection and other STIs.

Clinical Trial Myths

“Clinical trials are not safe. If you enroll in a study, you can’t leave if you don’t like it.”

The truth: You will always be in control. You can quit any study at any time for any reason. Some people when clinical trials are mentioned think about Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which was done before there were ethical guidelines from the government about how clinical trials should be done. The government now has really strict regulations and rules that all studies have to follow in order to protect the people in the clinical trials. Clinical trials in other countries have to follow the regulations and rules set by that government. Additionally, all governments have to follow regulations and rules from the CIOMS along with the WHO.

Get All the Facts

The HIV myths around can be harmful. They can cause fear about something that is not that dangerous. Myths can also make you feel like something isn’t dangerous when it really is.

It is vital that you learn the truth and get all the facts. Sometimes, something that seems to be well-informed can provide the wrong information. If you have questions about HIV, talk to your doctor, local HIV/AIDS groups, or the CDC National AIDS hotline.

Myths about hiv and aids
  • Avert. (2019). Myths About HIV and AIDS. Retrieved August 2021
  • Healthline Media. (2018). 9 Myths About HIV/AIDS. Retrieved August 2021
  • WebMD. (2021). Common Myths About HIV and AIDS. Retrieved August 2021
  • WebMD. (2021). 7 Myths About HIV/AIDS. Retrieved August 2021
  • Medical News Today. (2020). HIV and AIDS: Transmission Myths and Facts. Retrieved August 2021
  • MedicineNet. (2020). HIV AIDS: Myths and Facts. Retrieved August 2021
  • The Well Project. (2019). Myths about HIV. Retrieved August 2021
  • HIV Ireland. (n.d.). Myths About HIV. Retrieved August 2021
  • Ending HIV. (2018). 7 Common Misconceptions About HIV. Retrieved August 2021
  • Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. (2017). World AIDS Day: Top 5 Myths about HIV/AIDS. Retrieved August 2021

Written by Mark Riegel, MD

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