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Myths About HIV

April 7, 2015

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Myths About HIV

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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, you can 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 people living with HIV 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 that is able to replicate, or multiply and spread. 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. There is debate about whether the Berlin patient has actually been 'cured' of HIV -- only time will tell. This case provides hope and clues for a potential cure. 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 in Europe and North America has increased. In addition, death rates for HIV+ people who receive combination antiretroviral treatment have dropped. Unfortunately, for some people HIV drugs may have side effects 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 being reminded every day that they are living with HIV or experiencing problems from side effects. 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. Several studies have shown that continuing to take your HIV drugs as directed is the way to stay the healthiest the longest.

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 antigens (viral protein particles) and HIV antibodies, which are special proteins that the body produces in response to infection. If you are infected, your immune system will make antibodies against HIV. The combined HIV antigen-antibody tests (also called 4th generation tests), can correctly detect HIV 99 to 100 percent of the time. Nevertheless, if the result of this test comes back positive, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that it be confirmed by an HIV-1/HIV-2 antibody differentiation immunoassay. The antibody differentiation immunoassay can not only confirm the first test, but also tell which type of HIV a person has - either HIV-1 or HIV-2.

Rapid HIV tests are convenient, because they give results in about 20 minutes. However, positive results from rapid tests are preliminary and also need to be confirmed. For more information on what HIV test is right for you, see our article on HIV testing.

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.

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Michael (U.S.A. : New Hampshire) Sat., Jun. 4, 2011 at 9:51 am UTC
Myth: circumcision prevents HIV.

Because HIV is transmitted in many ways (saliva, tears, breastmilk, etc.) undergoing circumcision can not prevent transmission of the virus. It can not be seen as a "surgical vaccine" for this reason. Also, at the height of news AIDS cases in USA, we were also saw a recent peak in circumcisions.
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Myles Helfand ( Mon., Jun. 6, 2011 at 6:07 pm UTC
I approved this comment because it is, ironically, a perfect example of some pervasive myths about HIV, and I thought it'd be helpful to respond to it. So, to be clear:

-- Circumcision does not 100% prevent HIV. However, clinical trials have found that a circumcised man is less likely than an uncircumcised man to get HIV during unprotected sex with a positive woman.

-- HIV is not transmitted through saliva or tears. Period. The fact sheet you commented on already notes this.

-- HIV can potentially be transmitted from mother to child through breastfeeding. However, this does not mean that, for instance, a person can get HIV from a lactating woman by sucking her nipples. Adults are not babies, and foreplay is not breastfeeding.

Comment by: Anonymous Tue., Jan. 25, 2011 at 10:09 am UTC
You cant get aids from using a condom when having sex
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