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10 HIV/AIDS Myths

Why We're Losing Ground in the War on HIV/AIDS

"Myth" 7: HIV Testing Is the Answer

There's a widespread belief that people who know they are infected with HIV will act responsibly and change their risky behavior.

"Real-world evidence of such change is discouraging, especially for the large majority who test negative," Shelton writes.

And he notes that people recently infected with HIV are the most infectious -- yet test negative for HIV.

Dickinson says that while testing is not the sole answer to the HIV epidemic, it does help people reduce their risk behavior.

"Myth" 8: Treatment Is the Answer

Shelton notes that there is no clear evidence that anti-HIV treatment makes people less infectious or less likely to engage in risky behavior. In fact, he suggests, such effects may be outweighed by resumed sexual activity by infected people who feel better. Moreover, risky behavior may increase if people no longer see HIV as a death threat.

Squires says the myth in the U.S. is that HIV can be cured.

"While we have very effective therapy, we don't have a cure," she says. "I don't see that in the offing for the next several years at least. The best thing is not to get HIV in the first place."

"Myth" 9: New Technology Is the Answer

There's a huge amount of research into HIV vaccines, microbicides to block HIV, and drugs to prevent HIV infection.

"Unfortunately, any success appears to be far off," Shelton notes.

And even if such breakthroughs occur, they won't stop the AIDS epidemic unless people reduce risk behavior.

"Myth" 10: Sexual Behavior Will Not Change

Shelton notes that when HIV was still a death sentence in the U.S., gay men made radical changes in their behavior. And the drop in HIV prevalence in Kenya and in Zimbabwe was marked by a large drop in multiple sexual partners.

Truth 1: Fidelity Helps

Shelton's main point is that people who have multiple sexual partners drive the spread of HIV. In areas where HIV is widespread, people may not have a large number of sex partners, but they have more than one at the same time.

Once HIV enters one of these small networks, the entire network is likely to become infected. That makes having multiple concurrent partners more dangerous than serial monogamy, in which a partner has one partner for a time, and then another.

Squires notes that different researchers have different views on Shelton's suggestion. But she notes that in the U.S., monogamy is not the same as safe sex.

The important thing to understand is that while you may be having sex with only one person, you are being exposed to the risk from all the people with whom that person has had sex," she says. "It may be reassuring to have sex with only one person. But you still have to take personal responsibility for having safe sex."

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