For nearly 30 years, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) have been shrouded in myths and misconceptions. In some cases, these mistaken ideas have prompted the very behaviors that cause more people to become HIV-positive. Although unanswered questions about HIV remain, researchers have learned a great deal. Here are the top ten myths about HIV, along with the facts to dispute them.
Myth No. 1: I can get HIV by being around people who are HIV-positive.
The evidence shows that HIV is not spread through touch, tears, sweat, or saliva. You cannot catch HIV by:
Breathing the same air as someone who is HIV-positive
Touching a toilet seat or doorknob handle after an HIV-positive person
Drinking from a water fountain
Hugging, kissing, or shaking hands with someone who is HIV-positive
Sharing eating utensils with an HIV-positive person
Using exercise equipment at a gym
You can get it from infected blood, semen, vaginal fluid, or mother's milk.
Myth No. 2: I don't need to worry about becoming HIV positive -- new drugs will keep me well.
Yes, antiretroviral drugs are improving and extending the lives of many people who are HIV-positive. However, many of these drugs are expensive and produce serious side effects. None yet provides a cure. Also, drug-resistant strains of HIV make treatment an increasing challenge.
Myth No. 3: I can get HIV from mosquitoes.
Because HIV is spread through blood, people have worried that biting or bloodsucking insects might spread HIV. Several studies, however, show no evidence to support this -- even in areas with lots of mosquitoes and cases of HIV. When insects bite, they do not inject the blood of the person or animal they have last bitten. Also, HIV lives for only a short time inside an insect.
Myth No. 4: I'm HIV-positive -- my life is over.
In the early years of the disease epidemic, the death rate from AIDS was extremely high. But today, antiretroviral drugs allow HIV-positive people -- and even those with AIDS -- to live much longer, normal, and productive lives.
Myth No. 5: AIDS is genocide.
In one study, as many as 30% of African-Americans and Latinos expressed the view that HIV was a government conspiracy to kill minorities. Instead, higher rates of infection in these populations may be due, in part, to a lower level of health care.