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5 myths about HIV/AIDS on World AIDS Day

Here’s the truth: Tests and treatment work

We have learned a lot about HIV/AIDS since the disease started to get attention in the early 1980s. But with roughly 50,000 new cases of HIV infection each year in the United States, it is clear there is more work to be done. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African-Americans make up 44 percent of those infected in the U.S. while constituting only 12 percent of the total population. So for World Aids Day, we’re debunking some common myths surrounding this illness.

  • AIDS tests cannot be trusted.

Untrue. Modern HIV tests are actually very accurate. What many refer to as the “AIDS test” is a measure of HIV antigens (viral protein particles) and HIV antibodies, specialized proteins your body produces in response to the disease. The accuracy often depends on the time frame of the test. Fourth-generation tests can detect 95 percent of infections at 28 days after transmission. The CDC also recommends confirming positive results with an HIV-1/HIV-2 antibody differentiation immunoassay.

  • You can contract the disease just by being around someone who is infected.

False. Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions surrounding HIV/AIDS is how it can be contracted. Because the disease is often stigmatized, many fear even being in the vicinity of someone who may have the disease. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot contract HIV by kissing, sneezing or other casual contact. This disease is transmitted through semen, infected blood, vaginal fluids and breast milk. Most people contract the disease through unprotected sex or sharing drug equipment with people who have the disease. The CDC identified all possible routes of transmission in 1983 and ruled out the possibility of everyday contact as a cause of the spread of the disease.

  • HIV is a gay and bisexual men’s disease.

This is also terribly false. This myth originated early in the AIDS epidemic when the conversation of HIV was centered on the gay community and unfortunately remains today. Although there is a higher infection rate for homosexual males (70 percent) than heterosexual individuals (13 percent), the reality is that this disease does not discriminate. All individuals, regardless of age, sexual orientation, race, class, etc., are at risk of contracting the disease if appropriate measures for safe sex are not taken. Additionally, according to the CDC, heterosexual individuals make up 23 percent of those infected and women make up 19 percent.

  • HIV is a death sentence.

Fortunately, this is false too. When HIV originally came to national attention, the disease itself was not as well-studied as it is now. It was not clear then how to treat the disease, and many people died as a result. Back then, life expectancy was often only a few months after initial identification of the disease. Now, it is possible to live a long, full life with the disease. Advances in prescription medicine, such as antiretroviral medications that are able to suppress the virus, have tremendously aided infected individuals.

This is also false. Among the new developments in HIV/AIDS research is a greater understanding of how to prevent transmission. Condoms, when properly used, reduce the likelihood of transmitting the disease to an HIV-negative partner by more than 90 percent. This understanding should help eliminate some of the stigma around the disease and allow negative partners to feel safe when having positive partners. Positive individuals with negative partners can also reduce the chances of transmission by regularly taking antiretroviral medications, which reduce the amount of HIV in the body.

This World Aids Day, get an update on your status and share some of these facts with your friends.