Top 10 Myths about HIV....and the reality
Many myths about
and AIDS have contributed to prejudice and stigma about the disease. Here are
some of the most common.
The myth: "HIV can be spread through tears, sweat, mosquitoes,
pools, or casual contact."
The reality: HIV can only be transmitted through infected blood,
semen, vaginal fluids, and
breast milk. The
most common ways for HIV to be transmitted are through unprotected sexual
contact and/or sharing needles with an HIV-positive person. HIV can also be
passed from mother to baby during
breastfeeding. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that
tools that are intended to penetrate the skin be used once, then disposed of
or thoroughly cleaned and sterilized between clients. If you are considering
getting a tattoo or having your body pierced, ask the staff what steps they
take to prevent the spread of HIV and other blood-borne infections, such as
the hepatitis B virus. You also may call the local health department to find
out what sterilization procedures are in place in the local area for these
types of businesses.
The following "bodily fluids" like tears, sweat, saliva, urine,
feces are NOT infectious
"Since I am HIV-positive, if I
get pregnant, I will spread the disease to my unborn baby"
The reality: This used to be
true but not anymore. Modern drugs are highly effective at preventing HIV
transmission during pregnancy,
labor and delivery. When combined with other
interventions, including formula feeding, a complete course of treatment can
cut the risk of transmission to below 2%. Even where resources are limited, a
single dose of medicine given to mother and baby can cut the risk in half.
Without treatment, this risk is about 25 percent in the United States.
The drugs that can prevent HIV being passed from a mother to her baby are
called antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. ARVs are the drugs that are also taken by
HIV positive women who are not pregnant, to prevent them from becoming ill.
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The myth: "It's not AIDS that kills people; it's the medicines they
The reality: HIV medications, known as antiretrovirals, don't cure
HIV, but they can help keep people healthy for many years. People died from
AIDS before antiretrovirals became available. Since combination drug therapy
for HIV was begun in 1996, the average life expectancy for HIV-positive people
in Europe and North America has increased. In addition, death rates for
HIV-positive people who receive combination antiretroviral treatment has
dropped. Unfortunately, the HIV drugs do have side effects and toxicity (for
some people) that can be life-threatening in very rare cases. The good news is
that many of the newer HIV medications have fewer side effects and are easier
The myth: "HIV patient should not eat high calorie, high protein diet"
The reality: Good nutrition can improve your health and slow down your HIV
infection. You might have trouble eating if you have sores in your mouth,
diarrhea, nausea or just a poor
appetite. Here are some ways to add nutrition
to your diet:
Have high-calorie protein drinks or shakes. Adding powdered milk can increase
the nutrition in other drinks.
Drink 8 to 10 glasses of filtered water each day.
snacks on hand, such as nuts and carrot sticks.
Eat high-calorie foods if you're losing weight.
Call your doctor if you lose 5 pounds or more when you didn't intend to.
Talk to your doctor about taking a multivitamin every day. Take your
multivitamin with a meal to help prevent an upset stomach.
The myth: " HIV patient should not workout to avoid unnecessary strain"
The reality: Basic exercise is important for everyone, no matter what your
physical condition. In addition to toning muscles and improving
exercise can greatly improve the
immune system and help you manage
which is especially beneficial for those living with HIV. There are two
major types of exercise that can be beneficial for people living with HIV:
resistance and aerobic. Resistance exercise (weight training) adds density and
bulk to the muscles in your body. This type of exercise is probably the most
important for people with HIV because more muscle = better immune function.
Resistance training may include
push-ups, pull-ups and deep knee bends, but is
even more effective when weights are used. If you don't have access to a gym,
be creative! Instead of weights, simply use common household items such as
soup cans, books or milk jugs filled with water or sand.
While aerobic training
is not advised for individuals experiencing wasting
or unintentional weight loss, these individuals can benefit greatly from
resistance training. In general, try doing some form of physical activity at
least every other day. If you like to exercise daily, you might consider
alternating the days on which you train aerobically or with weights.
The myth: "Senior citizens do not stand the risk for HIV"
The reality: When we think of HIV we have certain populations in mind. We
hear about its ravages on young men and women; on the gay and transgender
populations; on the homeless and the intravenous drug user. We seldom think
about HIV and senior citizens. What no one talks about is HIV and the older
adult. It's no wonder that when you talk to our senior citizens, they feel HIV
is not a risk to them. The truth of the matter is that HIV surveillance shows
that 11 percent of all new AIDS cases are in people over the age of 50.
Statistics also show that new AIDS cases rose faster in the over
than in people under 40. The following information sheds light on HIV and the
older adult population and what can be done to raise awareness, slow the
infection rate, and sustain a high quality of life for our seniors.
Heterosexual transmission in men over 50 is up 94 percent and the rate has
doubled in women since 1991. And while prevention and education dollars are
concentrated toward young adult populations, seniors are not getting safer sex
education and continue to get HIV infected.
The myth: "The 'AIDS test' can't be trusted."
The reality: The 'AIDS test' measures HIV antibodies. If you are infected,
your immune system will make antibodies against HIV. The HIV antibody test
(called ELISA or EIA) is one of the most reliable medical tests. Before you
get the results, the test has usually been done two or more times. Before a
positive antibody test result is reported, it is confirmed by another test
called a Western Blot. According to the CDC, the combined accuracy of the
antibody test plus the Western Blot is greater than 99 percent. Today,
testing for HIV is more reliable than tests for many other diseases. The
accuracy in establishing whether a person does – or does not – have HIV
infection is quite high and reliable. Usually when a test comes back HIV
positive, the test is repeated or other test are done to check for viral
genetic material in body fluids and cells to confirm the first test results.
The myth: "If I'm receiving treatment, I can't spread the HIV virus."
The reality: When HIV treatments work well, they can reduce the amount of
virus in your blood to a level so low that it doesn't show up in blood tests.
Research shows, however, that the virus is still "hiding" in other areas of
the body. It is still essential to practice safe sex so you won't make someone
else become HIV-positive.
The myth: "My partner and I are both HIV positive -- there's no reason for
us to practice safer sex."
The reality: Practicing safer
sex -- wearing condoms or using dental dams
-- can protect you both from becoming exposed to other (potentially drug
resistant) strains of HIV. Keep in mind, there are different strains (types)
of HIV. Increasing evidence shows that re-infection with a different HIV
strain can and does happen. You can infect your partner again if you are
taking anti-HIV therapies, which you've become resistant to, and then you pass
the drug-resistant strain of HIV to your partner. Likewise, if your partner is
taking anti-HIV therapy, you could become infected with drug-resistant strains
of HIV. Make sure to use a condom every time you have sex.
The Myth: Anti-retroviral drugs are toxic and more dangerous than the HIV
The Reality: Anti-retroviral drugs are powerful. Taken in combinations of
two or more drugs at a time, they can keep HIV infection in check for long
periods. Antiretroviral drugs have reduced the death rate from HIV/AIDS by
80%. At the same time, they have made dramatic improvements in the quality of
life for people who have HIV infection. At the same time,
anti-retroviral drugs have side effects of their own and can cause
interactions for other drugs that a person may need to take for opportunistic
infections. Educating yourself about the drugs you are taking, knowing what
side effects to look for and working in partnership with a doctor whom you
trust can keep the drawbacks of anti-retroviral therapy low.
Myths about HIV are very dangerous. They can cause you to be afraid of
something that is not dangerous. And they can make you feel like something is
not dangerous when it really is!
So be careful. Sometimes seemingly well-informed or well-meaning people give
out wrong information. If you have a question about HIV, talk to your health
care provider, your local AIDS organization, or the CDC National AIDS Hotline at