Despite still having many questions about HIV and AIDS, researchers have learned enough to know that many beliefs and myths people around the globe hold on to shouldn’t even be getting a split of seconds of their attention.
Misconceptions about HIV and AIDS are sometimes what lead to being infected by the virus.
Myth #1: HIV is a death sentence; I’m HIV-positive. My life is over.
In the early years, when the disease was epidemic, the death rate from AIDS was extremely high. But today’s drugs allow people who have HIV or even AIDS to live much longer, normal, and productive lives. If you start drug treatment right away and take it correctly, it’s possible you won’t ever develop AIDS. And you may live as long as you would have without the virus.
HIV could make you more likely to get diseases like cancer, heart disease, and kidney disease. So protect yourself with a healthy lifestyle. And tell your doctor about any other health problems you have. HIV drugs can interfere with other medications and make some conditions harder to control.
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Myth #2: You can tell if someone has HIV/AIDS by looking at them
If an individual contracts the HIV virus, the symptoms are largely unremarkable. A person with an HIV infection might display symptoms that are similar to any other type of infection, such as a fever, fatigue, or general malaise. Additionally, the initial mild symptoms generally only last a few weeks.
With the early introduction of antiretroviral medications, the HIV virus can be effectively managed. A person with HIV who receives antiretroviral treatment is relatively healthy and is no different than other individuals who have chronic health conditions. The stereotypical symptoms that people often associate with HIV are actually symptoms of complications that can arise from AIDS-related illnesses or complications. However, with adequate antiretroviral treatment and medications, those symptoms will not be present in an individual living with HIV.
HIV isn’t spread through touch, tears, sweat, saliva, or pee. You can’t catch it by:
- Breathing the same air
- Touching a toilet seat or door handle
- Drinking from a water fountain
- Hugging, kissing, or shaking hands
- Sharing eating utensils
- Using exercise equipment at a gym
You can get it from infected blood, semen, vaginal fluid, or breast milk.
Myth #4: HIV always leads to AIDS
HIV is the infection that causes AIDS. But this doesn’t mean all HIV-positive individuals will develop AIDS. AIDS is a syndrome of immune system deficiency that is the result of HIV attacking the immune system over time and is associated with weakened immune responses and opportunistic infections. AIDS is prevented by early treatment of HIV infection.
“With current therapies, levels of HIV infection can be controlled and kept low, maintaining a healthy immune system for a long time and therefore preventing opportunistic infections and a diagnosis of AIDS,” explains Dr. Richard Jimenez, professor of public health at Walden University.
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Myth #4: HIV-positive people can’t safely have children
The most important thing that a woman living with HIV can do when preparing for pregnancy is to work with her healthcare provider to begin ART treatment as soon as possible. Because treatment for HIV has advanced so much, if a woman takes her HIV medicine daily as recommended by a healthcare provider throughout her entire pregnancy (including labor and delivery), and continues medicine for her baby for 4 to 6 weeks after birth, the risk of transmitting HIV to the baby can be as low as 1% or less trusted Source.
There are also ways for a mother who has HIV to lower the risk of transmission in the event that the HIV viral load is higher than desired, such as choosing a C-section or bottle feeding with formula after birth.
Myth #4: Mosquitoes spread HIV.
Because the virus is passed through blood, people have worried that they could get it from biting or bloodsucking insects. Several studies show that doesn’t happen, even in areas with lots of mosquitoes and cases of HIV. When bugs bite, they don’t inject the blood of the person or animal they bit before you. Also, HIV lives for only a short time inside them
Myth #5: With all of the modern treatments, HIV is no big deal.
Although there have been a lot of medical advancements in the treatment of HIV, the virus can still lead to complications, and the risk of death is still significant for certain groups of people.
The risk of acquiring HIV and how it affects a person varies based on age, gender, sexuality, lifestyle, and treatment. The CDC has a Risk Reduction Tool that can help a person estimate their individual risk and take steps to protect themselves.
Myth #6: If both partners have HIV, there’s no reason for a condom.
Studies have shown that a person living with HIV who is on regular antiretroviral therapy that reduces the virus to undetectable levels in the blood is NOT able to transmit HIV to a partner during sex. The current medical consensus is that “Undetectable = Untransmittable.”
However, the CDC recommends that even if both partners have HIV, they should use condoms during every sexual encounter. In some cases, it’s possible to transmit a different strain of HIV to a partner, or in some rare cases, transmit a form of HIV that is considered a “superinfection” from a strain that is resistant to current ART medications.
The risk of superinfection from HIV is extremely rare; the CDC estimates that the risk is between 1 and 4 percent.
Myth #7: Those who test negative for HIV can have unprotected sex.
If a person was recently diagnosed with HIV, it may not show up on an HIV test until up to three months later.
“Traditionally used antibody-only tests work by detecting the presence of antibodies in the body that develop when HIV infects the body,” explains Dr. Gerald Schochetman, senior director of infectious diseases with Abbott Diagnostics. Depending on the test, HIV positivity could be detected after a few weeks or up to three months after possible exposure. Ask the person performing the test about this window period and the timing of repeat testing.
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Other tests, known as HIV combo tests, can detect the virus earlier.