Myths and Misconceptions about HIV/AIDS

catie The most up-to-date information for Canadians living with HIV can be found on the CATIE website. For more basic information, see below.

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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 some of the myths about HIV, along with the facts to dispute them.

Transmission

Myth: You can get HIV from casual contact (shaking hands, hugging, using a toilet, drinking from the same glass as someone who is HIV-infected, or being close to an infected person who is sneezing or coughing).

Fact: HIV is not transmitted by day-to-day contact in social settings, schools or in the workplace. You cannot be infected by shaking someone’s hand, by hugging someone, by using the same toilet or drinking from the same glass as an HIV-infected person, nor by being exposed to coughing or sneezing by an infected person.

Myth: When you are on antiretroviral therapy, you cannot transmit the virus to others.

Fact: While antiretroviral therapy reduces the risk of transmission, it does not completely prevent an infected person from passing on the virus to others. Therapy can keep viral load down to undetectable levels, but HIV is still present in the body and there is a small chance that it can be transmitted to others through sexual contact, by sharing injecting equipment, or by mothers breastfeeding their infants. Antiretroviral therapy should be used in combination with condoms and proper disposal of injecting equipment to prevent transmission.

Myth: Sports pose a risk for HIV infection.

Fact: There is no evidence that HIV can be transmitted while playing a sport.

Myth: HIV can be transmitted through mosquito bites.

Fact: HIV is not spread by mosquitoes or other biting insects. Even if the virus enters a mosquito or another sucking or biting insect, it cannot reproduce in insects. Since the insect cannot be infected with HIV, it cannot transmit HIV to the next human it feeds on or bites.

Myth: You don’t need to use protection if you have had a sexually transmitted infection (STI) because you can only have one sexually transmitted infection at a time/you are immune.

Fact: You can have more than one sexually transmitted infection (STI) at the same time. Each infection requires its own treatment. You cannot become immune to STIs. You can catch the same infection over and over again. Many men and women do not see or feel any early symptoms when they first become infected with an STI, but they can still infect their sexual partner.

HIV-positive Status

Myth: If you test HIV-positive, your life is over.

Fact: 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, normal, and productive lives.

Myth: HIV only affects homosexuals and drug users.

Fact: Anyone who has unprotected sex or shares injection equipment containing contaminated blood can become infected with HIV. Infants can be infected with HIV from their mothers during pregnancy, during labour or after delivery through breastfeeding.

Myth: You can tell someone has HIV just by looking at them.

Fact: You cannot tell if someone has HIV by just looking at them. A person infected with HIV may look healthy and feel good, but they can still pass the virus to you. A blood test is the only way a person can find out if he or she is infected with HIV.


Sources:

Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR)

WEBMD.COM