There’s a lot of myths floating around about HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus. But since it’s typically cloaked in stigma, it can be hard to learn the truth.
However, if you’re sexually active, it’s important to know the facts about HIV. Your health and wellness depend on it. Plus, of the 1.2 million HIV-positive people in the United States, 1 in 8 don’t know that they’re infected.1 Knowing the basic facts can be a game changer.
To start off, learn about these 10 popular myths about HIV and AIDS.
1. Myth: You Can’t Get HIV Through Oral Sex
The risk is very low, but it’s possible. You can get infected if you have an open wound in your mouth that comes into contact with blood, semen, or vaginal fluids from an HIV-positive person. However, you might not even realize that you have a cut in your mouth. So it’s important to always be safe.
Unprotected vaginal and anal sex is one of the most common ways this virus can spread. As for the myth of HIV transmission through sharing straws and kissing? It’s not possible, so don’t worry.2
2. Myth: You Can Tell When You’ve Been Infected
False. It can take up to 10 years for any symptoms to show up. Even then, it may look like a mild infection or illness.3
Sometimes, flu-like symptoms may develop 2 to 4 weeks after infection. This includes fever, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes. But since these aren’t guaranteed symptoms, it’s best to not count on them. They may very well be caused by other conditions.4
The only way to tell is to get checked. If you’ve had a new partner or continuously have multiple partners, it’s best to get tested yearly.5
3. Myth: HIV Always Becomes AIDS
False. One of the most important facts about HIV and AIDS is that early detection changes everything. This allows for early treatment and prevents HIV from becoming AIDS, the last stage of the infection.
In the early stages of HIV, you can take antiretroviral therapy (ART). This ‘cocktail’ of drugs will suppress the virus while boosting immunity. You’ll need to take this medication for the rest of your life.
While there are many side effects, ART will greatly reduce the risk of HIV turning into AIDS. This is exactly why people with HIV can have long and healthy lives. However, it’s most effective when HIV is in the early stage, stressing the importance of regular testing.6
4. Myth: Having HIV Means You Can’t Be In A Healthy Relationship
False. This HIV myth stems from the stigma surrounding the disease. Understandably, you might feel that it’s impossible to be in a monogamous, sexually active relationship.
Luckily, regular ART will help. It’ll lower the virus to undetectable levels, thus decreasing your risk for HIV transmission. Your HIV negative partner can also take pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for extra protection.
The risk is even lower if both of you practice healthy habits. Regular exercise, nutritious diets, and avoiding smoking will keep your immune systems nice and strong.7
5. Myth: HIV Positive Women Can’t Have Babies
False. Taking ART can reduce your viral load and prevent transmission to your baby. Of course, the sooner ART is started, the less likely this will be. The best time to start ART is before you even become pregnant.
After all, HIV can be transmitted during pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding. But even if you take ART, your baby will need regular testing to make sure it doesn’t have HIV.
It’s essential to skip breastfeeding, though. Opt for infant formula to protect your baby from HIV transmission.8
6. Myth: Being Bitten By An HIV-Infected Person Can Give You HIV
Though extremely rare, it may be possible. For HIV to be transmitted, there needs to be extreme damage to the skin. The risk is possible if the bite is strong enough to get skin tissue ruptured and if there’s blood involved. But if the skin seems okay and not broken, it cannot get transmitted.
7. Myth: You Can’t Get HIV Through Anal Sex
False. In fact, anal sex is one of the riskiest types of sex for getting HIV. Found in the semen, pre-seminal fluid or rectal fluids, HIV can be transmitted through any one of these fluids. The risk is high for both partners. Receptive anal sex is much riskier because the rectal lining is thin and this allows transmission of HIV. The one at the top is also at risk because HIV can enter through the opening at the tip of the penis or through open sores or cuts on the penis.9
8. Myth: You Can Get HIV Through Saliva, Tears, And Sweat
False. HIV cannot survive on the surfaces of the human body. As long as nothing gets mixed with the blood of an HIV person, it doesn’t spread through saliva, tears, and sweat.
9. Myth: HIV Can Be Spread From Breathing The Air Around An Infected Person
False. HIV cannot get transmitted through air or water. It needs to move from one body to another through bodily fluids or through contaminated needles.
10. Myth: You Can Get HIV By Hugging An Infected Person
False. Casual social contact has no place for HIV. Hugging, shaking hands, touching, or even kissing on the cheek cannot lead to an HIV transmission. Bodily fluids need to be involved.
Remember, many myths about HIV and AIDS are not true. It’s a complex condition that involves many factors – more than most people realize. If you ever have concerns about HIV, talk to your doctor.
|↑1||Basic Statistics. Centers for Disease Control.|
|↑2, ↑3||HIV & AIDS. Planned Parenthood.|
|↑4||About HIV/AIDS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑5||HIV Testing Frequency. Aids.gov.|
|↑6||Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in HIV-1-Infected Adults and Adolescents. AIDS Info.|
|↑7||When One Partner Is HIV+. AIDS Info.|
|↑8||Pregnancy & Childbirth. AIDS Info.|
|↑9||HIV Transmission.US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)|