AIDS - Myths and Facts

Facts (and Myths) of HIV & AIDS

When HIV was first identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1981, there was panic and a lot of misinformation spread as to how the disease could be contracted. Thanks to more than 30 years of research and awareness efforts, AIDS-related deaths have dropped significantly worldwide. But several myths still remain.

In honor of World AIDS Day (Dec. 1), we separate fact from fiction to keep you informed and protected against this pandemic.

Some Basic Facts
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that can cause acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and is believed to stem from Africa in the early 20th century. AIDS weakens a person’s immune system to the point where the common cold can be deadly.
HIV is transmitted through the exchange of the following fluids:
  • blood
  • semen
  • vaginal fluid
  • breast milk (from mother to child)
The most common methods of transmission include unprotected sex, sharing needes, and from mother to child during childbirth or breastfeeding.
AIDS is considered a pandemic and since 2010, more than 34 million people worldwide are estimated to have contracted HIV, the majority of which are in Africa. 

HIV infection always leads to an AIDS diagnosis.
MYTH. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, but thanks to radical developments in treatments and early detection of HIV infection, people are able to live for decades without developing AIDS. Drugs called antiretrovirals attack the HIV virus from many angles to the extent that it can no longer be detected. For instance, NBA legend Irving “Magic” Johnson was diagnosed with HIV in 1991, but thanks to successful treatment, he continues to live a healthy life today.

HIV can be transmitted through kissing
MYTH. The HIV virus is transmitted through blood, seminal, and vaginal fluids—not saliva. There have been no reported cases of HIV infection from kissing or sharing food or a beverage with someone with HIV or AIDS. However, any kind of sore, even bleeding in the gums, does bring blood into the equation, which increases the risk of infection.

You can get HIV through oral sex
FACT. The risk of contracting HIV is lower with oral sex, but there is always a risk when membranes of the mouth are exposed to seminal fluids or vaginal fluids. For absolute certainty, both partners should be tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Mosquitoes can transmit HIV
MYTH. While mosquitoes can carry diseases like malaria, the very nature of how they extract blood from humans make it impossible to transmit HIV from one person to another. This was once considered a fact, but extensive research has found that mosquitoes only exchange saliva with their host (i.e. you), and the insect saliva is incapable of transmitting the virus

Young people aren't at risk of HIV
MYTH. The HIV virus can infect anyone at any age. One in five Americans diagnosed in 2009 were between the ages of 13 and 24. In fact, young people ages 20 to 24 had the highest number and rate of HIV diagnoses of any other age group.

You can only be tested at the doc's office.
MYTH. While your doctor can take a simple blood sample to test for HIV and other diseases, there are numerous different testing options besides a doctor’s appointment. Many major cities have mobile units that offer free testing. In 2012, a home testing system called OraQuick hit the market. It uses a swab from inside the mouth and provides results in 20 minutes.

HIV and AIDS only affects gay men.
This was one of the earliest perpetuated MYTHS of the disease and has long been debunked. While gay men of any age or race are at the highest risk of infection, 39 percent of people with HIV or AIDS today are either straight or women.

You can contract HIV through a blood transfusion.
While this is a FACT, nearly all cases of HIV infection due to blood transfusions came before March of 1985. This is when proper testing became available to screen donated blood for HIV antibodies. Since then, all blood donated in the United States and other developed countries is rigorously tested for HIV and other blood pathogens. The likelihood of contracting HIV through a blood transfusion in the United States makes this nearly a MYTH.

Sex with a virgin will cure AIDS.
This bizarre and obvious MYTH is widely perpetuated in sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV and AIDS are most prevalent and affect an estimated 22.9 million people as of 2010, making AIDS the leading cause of death there. The myth that sex with a virgin can cure sexually transmitted diseases dates back to the 16th century and has been attributed to numerous sexual offenses. The only truth to this practice is that it spreads HIV further.

There is no cure for HIV or AIDS
While this is an unfortunate FACT for now, recent research and treatments have shown promise this may soon be a MYTH.
One patient, Timothy Ray Brown—dubbed “The Berlin Patient”—received a blood stem cell transplant at the Charite Hospital in Berlin, Germany to treat his newly-diagnosed leukemia and HIV, which he had for 10 years. Since 2010, Brown has been declared cancer- and HIV-free. The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Facts on Prevention
The best way to stay safe against HIV and other blood-related illnesses includes:
  • practicing safe sex, which includes always using a condom
  • avoiding sexual contact with open wounds or sores
  • never sharing needles with anyone
  • regularly getting HIV and other STD screens
  • communicating openly with your partner 


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