Although HIV/Stage 3 (AIDS) has been considered a public health concern for more than 30 years and there have been numerous public awareness campaigns about the disease, plenty of myths remain. People living with HIV still face stigmatization daily, which by itself may be enough to discourage someone from seeking testing and treatment…and delayed treatment diminishes chances of a long and healthy life. This delay in testing and treatment also increases the risk of infecting one’s intimate partners and medical providers. For everyone’s sake, we need to set the record straight. So, let’s start myth-busting…
What People May Believe about HIV Causes
By now it seems common knowledge that HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids. However, there’s a lot of misinformation about which fluids, exactly, have the potential to spread disease. Common myths about virus transmission include:
- You can get HIV from touching an infected person’s saliva, so you can get sick from kissing or sharing food.
- You can get HIV by bathing with an infected person or using the same toilet seat.
- You can get HIV by hugging or touching the sweat of an infected person.
- You can get HIV if an infected person sneezes or coughs on you.
Other myths about the origins of the virus feed the image of individuals living with HIV as depraved, perverted, or simply “other” such as:
- HIV is a monkey-born virus. Humans got it by having sex with monkeys.
- HIV is a “gay” disease.
These myths instill a sense of shame and encourage isolation of those with the virus. And that’s unfortunate because they’re simply not true.
The Facts about HIV Causes
Here are the facts:
HIV is a virus, much like the common cold. However, HIV is only transmitted by blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk. So, you CANNOT contract the virus through physical touch or the passing of saliva or sweat. You CAN contract the virus through:
- Condomless sex Blood transfusions
A mother living with HIV may also transmit the virus to her child during pregnancy, childbirth and/or breastfeeding.
As for the origins of HIV, there’s still a lot we do not know. Scientists believe that the human immunodeficiency virus did originate from chimpanzees, but it is more likely that the virus was transmitted through infected blood because of hunting practices. In the United States, the virus was dubbed “gay cancer” in the early 1980s because most infected individuals were gay men. However, HIV is spread through heterosexual intercourse as well.
What People May Believe about HIV Prevention
A number of myths about how to prevent HIV may hinder people from getting the care they need after behaviors that increase risk. For instance, many people believe that HIV can be prevented by:
- Pulling out
- Washing (or douching) after sex
- Having intercourse with a virgin
- Using contraception and/or the Day-After pill
None of these methods are sufficient to practice safe sex.
The Facts about HIV Prevention
In order to effectively prevent HIV, individuals must practice safer sex during every sexual act/encounter. Safe sex includes:
- Wearing condoms
- (For individuals living with HIV) Taking PrEP medications as indicated
Because HIV can also be spread through needle-sharing, illicit drug users should always use clean needles.
Get More Facts…
At UNM Truman Health Services, our mission is to educate the public about HIV so that people can effectively prevent the spread of disease and know where (and why) to get treatment when needed. If you have questions about HIV or need testing or treatment for infection, please contact us. We respect the privacy of every patient, regardless of age. Our clinical and behavioral health teams are happy to help you get the care you need live a health life regardless of infection status.