Blood vessel with HIV flowing through circulatory
1 / 10

Having HIV Means You Have AIDS

Myth. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that destroys the body's CD4 immune cells, which help fight disease. With the right medications, you can have HIV for years or decades without HIV progressing to AIDS. AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is diagnosed when you have HIV as well as certain opportunistic infections or your CD4 cell count drops below 200.

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Young couple in cafe sharing drink through straws
2 / 10

It's Difficult to Get HIV From Casual Contact

Fact. You can't catch or spread HIV from hugging someone, using the same towel, or sharing the same glass. It's very rare to get HIV from a blood transfusion -- the U.S. blood supply is carefully tested. However, you can get the disease from having unprotected sex, sharing needles, or getting a tattoo from unsterilized equipment.

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Profile of a male doctor talking to a young woman
3 / 10

You Have Just a Few Years to Live

Myth. Because of the HIV drugs that are now available, the truth is that many people can live for decades with HIV and have a normal or near-normal life span. You can help prevent HIV from progressing to AIDS by seeing your doctor regularly, taking your medicines, and following your doctor's guidance.

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African American man checking temperature
4 / 10

You'll Know You Have HIV Because of Your Symptoms

Myth. Some people don't show signs of HIV for years after being infected. However, many can have some symptoms within 10 days to a few weeks after infection. These first symptoms are similar to the flu or mononucleosis and may include fever, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, rash, and muscle aches. They usually disappear after a few weeks and you may not have symptoms again for several years. The only way to tell you have HIV is to get tested.

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Birthday celebrations for woman
5 / 10

HIV Can Be Cured

Myth. There is no cure for HIV at the present time, but treatment can control virus levels and help maintain your immune system. Some drugs interfere with proteins HIV needs to copy itself; others block the virus from entering or inserting its genetic material into your immune cells. All HIV-infected people should start treatment. These medicines are called antiretroviral therapy. Your doctor can say what drug combination is best for you.

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Walkers in AIDS Charity Walk
6 / 10

Anyone Can Get HIV

Fact. About 38,700 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with HIV each year, and more than 15,000 people who have HIV die each year. Anyone can get HIV -- men, women, children, and people who are gay or straight. Men who have sex with men make up about 25,700 new diagnosed HIV cases each year. Women account for about 6,100 new diagnoses. African-Americans continue to have the most severe burden of HIV, compared with other races and ethnicities.

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Woman with condom and hand of partner
7 / 10

Sex Is Safe When Both Partners Have HIV

Myth. Just because you and your partner both have HIV, it doesn't mean you should forget about protection when having sex. Using a condom or other latex barrier can help protect you from other sexually transmitted diseases as well as other strains of HIV, which may be resistant to anti-HIV medication. Even if you are being treated and feel well, you might still be able to infect others.

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A young mother holds baby
8 / 10

You Can Have a Healthy Baby if You Are HIV-Positive

Fact. Infected mothers can pass HIV to their babies during pregnancy or delivery. But you can lower the risk by working with your doctor and getting the right care and medication. Pregnant women with HIV can take medications to treat their infection and to help protect their babies against the virus.

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Mother watching her children in the water
9 / 10

You Can’t Avoid Other HIV-Related Infections

Myth. People with HIV can get infections like pneumonia, tuberculosis, candidiasis, cytomegalovirus, and toxoplasmosis. The best way to cut the risk is to take HIV medications. People with advanced HIV infection (AIDS) can prevent some of these infections with specific drugs in addition to antiretroviral therapy. You can lessen exposure to some germs by avoiding undercooked meat, litter boxes, and contaminated water.

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Credit card in hand with prescription bottles
10 / 10

You Can't Get Lifesaving Drugs Without Insurance

Myth. There are government programs, nonprofit groups, and some pharmaceutical companies that may help cover the cost of drugs that treat HIV and AIDS. But be aware: These drug "cocktails" can cost $10,000 a year or more. Talk to your local HIV and AIDS service organization to learn about financial help.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 11/28/2021 Reviewed by Jonathan E. Kaplan, MD on November 28, 2021


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AIDS InfoNet website.
American Academy of Family Physicians web site.
American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Gay Men's Health Crisis web site.
Gordon, E. Health and Wellness. Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2009.
Harrison, K. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, Jan. 1, 2010.
HIV Positive Magazine.
Medical News Today.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
National Institutes of Health.
Planned Parenthood.
Schackman, B. Medical Care, November 2006.
The Body.
The New York Times.
U.S. Department of Health and Human.
World AIDS Day.
World Health Organization.

Reviewed by Jonathan E. Kaplan, MD on November 28, 2021

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.