In 1983, scientists discovered and named the virus that causes AIDS. Thirty-one years of research later, there are still myths surrounding HIV/AIDS that linger in the minds of the public. Despite the efforts of the medical community to educate the public on the truth about HIV/AIDs, these myths are spread as truths and can lead to unsafe practices, mistreatment of those who are HIV positive and more. What are the most common myths about HIV? Is there any truth to them?
I can get HIV from mosquitoes.
Considering the possibility of West Nile virus and the role mosquitoes have proven in spreading malaria, this myth has a reasonable basis of development. It is, however, entirely false. Mosquitoes do not inject the blood of the last creature they fed upon into their next meal, nor does excess blood cling to their proboscis. The HIV virus itself survives a very short time inside of an insect. There is no way to be infected by HIV from any blood-sucking insect.
I can get HIV by being around HIV-positive people.
This myth has touched everything from sharing public drinking fountains to public toilet seats. The only way to become infected by HIV from another person requires very intimate contact; standing in an elevator with an HIV-positive individual who sneezes will not infect you with the virus. Only blood, semen, vaginal fluid or mother’s milk has a possibility of passing the virus from one person to another.
I could tell if someone is HIV-positive.
HIV is a virus which can remain dormant in the system for years. There are no external symptoms for an HIV-positive status. Persistent swelling of the lymph nodes has been reported in individuals with latent HIV, but this is not easily detected. You cannot tell who is HIV-positive without medical testing.
Only homosexuals get HIV.
The percentage of individuals who are HIV-positive does show a trend between male homosexual contact and infection. However, children have been infected from HIV-positive mothers, people have become infected due to poorly screened blood transfusions, sharing dirty needles during illegal drug usage and heterosexual activity. 78% of HIV-positive women became infected during heterosexual contact.
If I’m being treated for HIV, I can’t spread the virus.
Current treatments for HIV do work well to reduce the amount of virus in the bloodstream, even to the point that it no longer shows up on bloodwork. The virus is still “hiding” in other areas of the body. You can spread the virus if you engage in unsafe sex or share needles.
No single disease has gained as many misconceptions and myths as AIDS, and part of this is due to the stigma associated with it. Communication and education about the disease is the only way to break the silence and ensure that myths are debunked with the results of scientific research. An educated person is able to understand the consequences of risky behavior and act accordingly, rather than engaging in potentially unsafe practices under the belief that myths are the truth. Educate yourself to protect yourself!