For nearly 30 years, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) have been shrouded in many myths and misconceptions. 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 great deal. Here are the top ten myths about HIV, along with the facts to dispute them.
The evidence shows that HIV is not spread through touch, tears, sweat, or saliva. You cannot catch HIV by:
You can get it from infected blood, semen, vaginal fluid, or mother's milk.
Yes, antiretroviral drugs are improving the lives of many people who are HIV positive. However, many of these drugs are expensive and produce serious side effects. None yet provides a cure. Also, drug-resistant strains of HIV make treatment an increasing challenge.
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 AIDS. 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.
In the early years of the disease epidemic, the death rate from AIDS was extremely high. But today, antiretroviral drugs allow HIV-positive people -- and even those with AIDS -- to live much longer. In fact, from 2000 to 2004, the number of people living with AIDS increased by 30%.
In one study, 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.
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.
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.
Practicing safer sex -- wearing condoms or using dental dams -- can protect you both from becoming exposed to other strains of HIV.
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.
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 a woman who is HIV positive. Always use a latex barrier during oral sex.