On World AIDS Day, people from around the world gather for an opportunity to show support and solidarity with people living with HIV everywhere. While education and awareness regarding this topic has significantly improved over the years, there are still some common misconceptions about AIDS that continue to distort the truth about this disease and unnecessarily stigmatize individuals diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.
MYTH ONE: HIV/AIDS is spread through common contact.
Myths about HIV transmission continue to proliferate, even with a mountain of scientific evidence to refute these claims. Touching common objects such as toilets, faucet handles and everyday objects will not transmit the virus from one person to another.
Transmission of the HIV virus can only happen through:
- Having unprotected anal sex or intercourse with someone carrying the HIV virus
- Sharing syringes or needles contaminated with the HIV virus
An HIV-positive mother may transmit the virus to her infant during the pregnancy, childbirth or through her breast milk. Thankfully, this vector of transmission is responsible for fewer than 200 cases annually in the United States, which speaks volumes about the value of spreading awareness.
MYTH 2: You can get AIDS by touching someone with the virus.
Simply put, this is not true. The CDC states that the HIV virus cannot survive for long outside the human body. In general, viruses require moist or wet conditions with the right pH balance, humidity, temperature and light exposure conducive to their survival. Shaking hands, hugging or even kissing someone who is infected with the virus will not transmit the virus.
MYTH 3: Mosquitoes that bite people with the AIDS virus transmit the virus to others.
This myth has been circulating since the 1980s and continues to be perpetuated by people who do not know or take the time to learn that, when mosquitoes bite, they suck blood for sustenance. They cannot inject the blood of anyone they have bitten in the past into another person.
MYTH 4: Two people who are HIV-positive and intimate with each other have to worry about HIV/AIDS.
Advances in virology and immunology have discovered the HIV virus has mutated into different strains, similar to how the Ebola virus mutated into the Marburg, Zaire and Sudan variants of the virus. If someone is infected with multiple strains of the HIV virus, it may reduce the efficacy of antiretroviral treatment.
MYTH 5: You can tell someone has HIV/AIDS by their health condition.
Only people in the later stages of AIDS will lose weight, have swollen lymph glands and suffer recurring, pneumonia-like symptoms.
MYTH 6: Testing positive for HIV means you have AIDS.
If your HIV test is positive, this means the virus was detected in your bloodstream. It does not mean you have AIDS. Today’s antiretroviral therapy (ART) medications can help HIV-positive individuals live long, healthy lives. Nevertheless, one out of eight HIV-positive people in the US do not know they are infected.
MYTH 7: The world is not educated or compassionate about AIDS.
Progress is always being made. Observed on December 1 every year since 1988, World AIDS Day continues to bring awareness of HIV/AIDS to the global community by providing information that debunks stigmatizing and false information about this disease. In addition, World AIDS Day endeavors to keep people aware that AIDS is still a prevalent, serious disease significantly impacting many developing countries.
Although cases of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. have dropped considerably since the 1980s and 1990s, the CDC reports that HIV “remains a significant cause of death for certain populations.” In 2013, AIDS was the eighth leading cause of death for people between 25 and 34 years old and the ninth leading cause of death for those between 35 and 44 years old.
The only way to be sure whether your or a loved one has HIV/AIDS is to get tested. At Alder Health, we provide anonymous confidential HIV/AIDS free testing. This World AIDS Day, we will be offering all-day testing for the general public. Contact us with any questions!