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Myths About HIV

March 2013

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There are many myths about HIV. A myth is a story or an idea that is not true. In dealing with HIV, it is important to be able to tell reality from myth. Believing myths can result in fear, in denial, and even in damage to your health.

Myths About HIV and HIV Treatment

The Myth: "HIV does not cause AIDS."

The Reality: If you do not have HIV, you do not get AIDS. If you have AIDS, you have HIV. Over 20 years of solid scientific proof has verified this. AIDS is not caused by party drugs, AZT, government conspiracies, or anything else but the HIV virus.

The Myth: "HIV is a death sentence."

The Reality: This used to be true. In the 1980s, there were very few treatment options for people living with HIV (HIV+), and many HIV+ people died from AIDS. Thankfully, however, this is no longer the case. We now have more and better HIV drugs. If you stick to your treatment regimen and take good care of your body, there is no reason you can not live a long, full life with HIV.

The Myth: "There is a cure for HIV/AIDS."

The Reality: Unfortunately, there is no universal cure for HIV or AIDS right now. Recent improvements in HIV drugs have made it possible for many HIV+ people to live long, healthy, and full lives. In addition, there have been isolated cases in which someone previously infected with HIV no longer has detectable virus in their system. The Berlin patient is one example -- a man who was diagnosed with HIV in 1995, received an HIV-resistant donor's stem cells for his bone marrow transplant in 2007, and is now reported to be HIV-free. Another example is a toddler from Mississippi who was born with HIV, treated with HIV drugs for 18 months, and then stopped. After five months of not taking any HIV drugs, she was found to have no detectable virus. There is debate about whether either of these people is actually 'cured' of HIV -- only time will tell. Although both cases provide hope and clues for a potential cure, and scientists are working hard to find one, there is no universal cure yet.

The Myth: "It is not AIDS that kills people; it is the medicines they take!"

The Reality: HIV drugs, known as antiretrovirals, do not cure HIV, but they can help keep people healthy for many years. People died from AIDS before antiretrovirals became available. Since combination drug therapy for HIV was begun in 1996, the average life expectancy for people living with HIV (HIV+) in Europe and North America has increased. In addition, death rates for HIV+ people who receive combination antiretroviral treatment have dropped. Unfortunately, the HIV drugs do have side effects and toxicity (for some people) that can be life-threatening in very rare cases. The good news is that many of the newer HIV medications have fewer side effects and are easier to take.

The Myth: "Newer HIV drugs are so powerful, it is OK to stop taking them for a while (take a 'drug holiday')."

The Reality: Some HIV+ people are tempted to stop taking their HIV drugs for a short time so that they can take a break from the drugs' side effects or from being reminded that they are living with HIV. Studies have shown, however, that interrupting your treatment or taking a 'drug holiday' can cause problems. Stopping your HIV drugs can: (1) give the virus a chance to multiply and cause your viral load to rise, (2) give the virus a chance to develop resistance to your HIV drugs, and (3) cause your CD4 cell count to drop and your immune system to weaken.

Myths About HIV Tests

The Myth: "The 'AIDS test' cannot be trusted."

The Reality: The 'AIDS test' is really an HIV test that measures HIV antibodies, which are special proteins that respond to infection. If you are infected, your immune system will make antibodies against HIV. The HIV antibody test (called ELISA or EIA) is one of the most reliable medical tests. Before a positive antibody test result is reported, it is confirmed by another test called a Western Blot. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the combined accuracy of the antibody test plus the Western Blot is greater than 99 percent. Rapid HIV tests are convenient, because they give results in about 20 minutes. However, positive results from rapid tests are preliminary and need to be confirmed by a Western Blot.

The Myth: "Viral load tests do not really tell anything about a person's health."

The Reality: Viral load measures the amount of HIV in a person's blood. Many studies have shown that people with high viral loads are much more likely to become ill or die than those with low viral loads. They also give us important information about how well HIV drugs are working.

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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.
See Also
10 Harmful Myths About HIV/AIDS
AIDS Myths


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