December 1, 2010
People living with and working in HIV/AIDS worldwide are also front-line witnesses to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS myths -- even now, after decades of information and education around HIV/AIDS. We asked dozens of these individuals to share some of the craziest myths they've heard. Take a look at what they had to say -- and add some HIV/AIDS myths of your own in the comment section below their responses.
Abraham Calleros, Milwaukee, Wisc.; Diagnosed in 1986
The craziest thing I've ever heard, as far as the HIV and AIDS, is that if I get infected I don't have to worry about anything. Because now I'm infected, so I can still have sex with somebody that's already infected. And I keep trying to tell people, "Nope. That's not the way it works." Because now we're looking at possibly having superinfection.
I did a youth health fair in a charter school in Manhattan. Some of the things that the young people told me, it was incredible. Like a young man who said he has sex with his boxers on and he won't get any diseases. Or the one young lady who said, "Oh, if I drink bleach, a teaspoon of bleach in a glass of water, I can wash away all the infection in my body." Not only will she not wash away the infection, but she might wash away her life drinking bleach!
One of the most outrageous things that I've heard was someone was afraid they were smelling HIV-positive people's farts and getting HIV.
Chivuli Ukwimi, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Cape Town, South Africa
Apart from the stigma of, you know, you can get HIV by touching someone or by sharing cups -- which was like way, way, way back -- I think one of the craziest myths that I still see lingering on, especially in an African setting, is where men are being told that if they had sexual intercourse with a young girl, a young child, that the pure blood of a child will cleanse them of HIV. I mean, just to think of having sex with a minor -- and not even a minor; a child, a three-year-old, a four-year-old, a five-year-old girl. I think for me that's the craziest myth, and it's really a sad myth, because it has a resulted in a lot of defilement cases. I think that's really, really sad.
Cyndee Clay, HIPS (Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive), Washington, D.C.
The craziest myth I've ever heard about HIV in the U.S. is that sex workers spread HIV, and statistically, we know in the U.S. that that's not true. Sex workers actually tend to do more prevention of the spreading of HIV. So that's the craziest myth I've heard in the U.S.
David Bond, Project Awareness, Las Vegas, Nevada
One of the many myths that I'm currently hearing about it is that you can die from HIV. You die due to complications of it. You don't die because of HIV.
Also, that I hear that it's cured, and that people are saying that you can't get it anymore.
Norman Medina, Gay and Lesbian Latino AIDS Education Initiative, Philadelphia, Pa.
One of the craziest myths that I've heard about HIV: I work with immigrant populations, and a lot of them say that HIV was created to kill the immigrant populations. I think it's crazy.
Joseph Stanley, New York City
The craziest myth I have heard is that taking antiretrovirals before having unprotected sex will prevent you from contracting HIV.
Scilla Bennett, AIDS.gov Facing AIDS Project, Washington, D.C.
The most outrageous myth I've ever heard about HIV was that everybody in Africa has HIV.
Well, I just think it's outrageous that people still think that you can hug someone, or be in the room with someone, and contract HIV. I don't have to give the crazy, wacky stuff like people thinking, you know, the government made HIV, because for me it's outrageous that people are still doing the things that can put us at risk, knowing the information we have out there about how HIV is transmitted.
Christopher Ervin, Aniz, Inc., Atlanta, Ga.
What's the craziest myth I ever heard about HIV? That's a long list that I could choose from. But one that is always of a concern is that men can't get HIV from women.
Devin T. Robinson X, National AIDS Awareness Poets
The craziest myth I ever heard about HIV is that you can get it from mosquito bites.
Joe Hammoud, Youth Coalition, Beirut, Lebanon
The weirdest myth I've heard about HIV is that it's a gay disease: It came from gay people, and it's only transmitted in gay people.
Also, another myth that's equivalent to that is that it's an African disease, which is also a very stereotypical, judgmental and racist comment.
Troy Ray, Hartford Gay & Lesbian Health Collective, Hartford, Conn.
The most craziest I have heard is this one client stated that she heard that people that are HIV positive they all smell like shit. She told me to smell her because she smelled shit and that's the reason why she came in to get tested. I can't make this stuff up.
Angela Green, MPH, Executive Director, IRIS Center, San Francisco, Calif.
That you cannot be an effective, qualified advocate for HIV/AIDS unless you are HIV positive.
Josephine Y. M. Kong, Hong Kong AIDS Foundation, Hong Kong
The biggest myth I've ever heard about HIV: Well, actually, I've heard it in the mainland [China], when I do preventive things. In the villages, they believe that by shaking hands, or just sharing farm tools, they will get the HIV virus. And because of this kind of misunderstanding and myth, they're OK to expel the family members from the village.
I'm glad that there are some people doing things, and I hope that it will gradually change the attitude. But that's the greatest myth I've ever heard from my work.
Liam Osbourne, World AIDS Campaign, Leiden, The Netherlands
The craziest myth I've ever heard about HIV is that it can be transmitted by sharing a cup with a person.
Michael Rivera, Latino Community Services, Hartford, Conn.
The craziest myth from way back in the day, when this thing started: You can catch HIV from eating from a person's plate, or drinking from their glass -- and 30 years later, it still exists. I still hear newly diagnosed people talking about that at home they are serving them on paper plates, still. And they don't want to share the towels and all this stuff -- people being rejected by family and loved ones, and at workplaces, because of a disease.
Nikki Mawanda, Transgenders, Intersex and Transsexual Uganda, Kampala, Uganda
The weirdest thing I've ever heard about HIV is, back home, they used to say that when someone has HIV that he's been bewitched. And for me, it's ... I mean, many people died out of it, but it's so weird. Instead of getting medication, people end up going to traditional shrines.
Patria Alguila, Miracle of Love, Orlando, Fla.
The craziest myth: I always think about monkeys and government -- those myths that that's where HIV came from.
Patricia Shelton, Peer Educator and Consultant, Bronx, N.Y.; Diagnosed in 1991
The craziest myth that I've ever heard about HIV/AIDS is that only gays and black people who are or were bad can get it -- that you definitely had to be a drug addict, somebody who walked on the wild side, or gay. But, say, suburban people, people who are in the church, people who are working -- productive members of society -- cannot get it.
I think maybe the craziest myth is just that you can just get it by touching. I always find it unbelievable that people think you can walk by someone, touch, and then you instantly have HIV.
Sherri Smith, Ebony Sisters Campaigning for AIDS Prevention Education (ESCAPE), Columbus, Ohio
I think for me, even though it's been said time and time again, is that the government put this out here to kill black people. And it's outlandish to me because I see a whole bunch of white people dying. So somebody messed up on that myth.
Winston Clark, The Gathering Center, Orlando, Fla.
The craziest thing I've heard about HIV is that straight people can't get HIV. HIV may be common in the black LGBT community, but straight people think that they can't get the disease. Because it's not a gay disease; it's a disease that doesn't discriminate based on orientation, or anything. So that's the craziest thing I ever heard about it.
Anthony Castro (Diagnosed in 2000) and Frankie Lopez (Diagnosed in 2007), San Francisco, Calif.
Anthony: One of the myths that surprises me a lot is the fact that some people think HIV is a curse of God, that we are being punished by God because we committed a big sin. To me, it's not. God is love, and God is not going to punish somebody for being who they are. I believe that as a gay man I'm doing more for the community than many other people that profess and preach being really close to God.
Frankie: You hear a lot of crazy things about HIV and, very much like my partner, one of the most insane things that I've heard, if not the most insane, is that HIV is a curse from God. It's also the gay people's disease myth, which is ludicrous because, sadly, I can tell you of newborns with HIV. I can tell you of heterosexuals with HIV.
Gloria McCall, AWARE Worldwide, Virginia Beach, Va.
With all of my years of being in the field from 1983, the craziest thing that I've heard about HIV -- and I'll tell you, I just heard it recently and I was appalled and speechless, and this came from a nurse: I was in a class, and she was talking to the instructor, telling the rest of the class that "You know what people living with HIV/AIDS do; they will bite themselves and spit the blood at you if they get mad because they want you to become infected with the virus."
I was so appalled and so speechless that I couldn't even address it at that time. When something is emotionally affecting me, I've learned to back off and take a couple of minutes before I go and talk about the issue. When I did that, and even went to her to tell her, she still was not receiving it from me that that is truly a myth, and to spread it is such an injustice to people living with HIV/AIDS.
Bernard Jackson, Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry, Falls Church, Va.; Diagnosed in 1999
I actually had a mother tell me that she had called one of those bathroom fitters so that she could have her bathtub cleaned because her son had taken a bath in her bathtub. She was afraid she could contract the virus.
It's actually more a myth about STDs [sexually transmitted diseases]. I had a patient that [laughs] had experienced some discolored discharge, but had found that his sexual partners liked it. And so, one of the misconceptions that he had was that basically when he was really heightened or really aroused that he could come and have yellow or green cum, and that that was actually kind of hot. [Discharge with a color or an odor may be a sign of an STD]
I think it's a pretty big misconception! I would say that that's my craziest one about STDs. The one about HIV, which is actually kind of sad, which I've heard from a lot of West African immigrants, is that if you have sex with a virgin, that it'll cure you of your HIV.
So there's a funny, strange one; and then a sad and disheartening one that just proves that our efforts to get out education are not over by any means.
David Salyer, Atlanta, Ga.; Diagnosed in 1994
I think the craziest thing I hear about HIV is that it's a chronic manageable disease just like diabetes. I'm fine with people saying it's a chronic manageable disease, but I get offended when they say it's just like diabetes. First of all, diabetes, is not infectious. Second, I don't know of anybody who ever got fired for having diabetes.
Fortunata Kasege, Houston, Texas; Diagnosed in 1997
The craziest myth I've heard is people think that they can tell by looking at somebody. Most people think they're really good on telling who is HIV positive. And the truth is that it's really hard to tell by just looking at the person.
Joe Ohmer, Treatment Adherence Peer Educator, Bronx, N.Y.; Diagnosed in 2002
I think the craziest myth I've heard is that AIDS is God's retribution to homosexuals, IV [intravenous] drug users, and blacks. First, I'm atheist. And second of all, it religion is used as a way of condemning far too much. The idea of a greater being causing retribution like that just doesn't make sense to me. It's much more complicated than that.
Rosita Libre de Marulanda, Educator and Past Participant in the "SAGE Is" Ad Campaign, Brooklyn, N.Y.
The craziest myth I used to hear many, many years ago was that women were liars, and that we didn't tell our prospective mates our whole sexual history. I am glad that HIV professionals eventually stopped advising people to get the story of a prospective partner because I kept on saying to them that some sexual experiences were maybe too embarrassing or too painful, and you may not want to tell someone you just met. So it was not about lying. It's about you got a right to your own story.
Professionals used to advise, "Get to know your person. Ask them where they've been, etc. " Today the advice is "Protect yourself, no matter what!" No matter what, protect yourself.
Brenda Lee Curry, Copasetic Women, New York City, Diagnosed in 1985
The craziest, most outlandish myth I've ever heard about HIV is that you can get HIV from using toilet paper.
I've heard somebody say that, "I went to my cousin's house. You know he has AIDS. And I had to go to the bathroom, but I didn't want to use his toilet paper because he has AIDS. He touches the toilet paper to use the bathroom, so I know that it's on that paper."
Sarah, Pennsylvania; Diagnosed in 1994, at age 10
Outrageous myths: Oh, there are so many! I'd probably say the most outrageous thing I've ever heard is HIV being compared to leprosy.
For example, there was a preacher who said, "Leprosy, back in that day, is kind of like AIDS."
I guess back then, the era he was talking about, they would yell out "Leprosy! Leprosy!" and leave the community. So he compared it to that, like saying you'd have to say "AIDS! AIDS!" and leave the community.
Jahlove Serrano, New York City; Diagnosed in 2005
One that I've heard was that you get HIV through ketchup. Some rumor that someone that was positive was putting their infected blood into the ketchup bottle and, you know: "Watch out for ketchup because it's infected with HIV."
I feel like we shouldn't scare people. I feel like we should enlighten people on the situation and take a lot of burdens off people as far as what is risky behavior, what's high-risk behavior or what is behavior period. And I think that's what we should be implementing.
Diane Campbell, School-Lunch Lady, Board of Education, New York City; Diagnosed in 2003
That it's a death sentence. That it's the end, but no; it's a new beginning. And it's wonderful to be alive. That's what HIV taught me. Every day that God gives you breath and gives you life is a day to rejoice.
The craziest myth I've ever heard about HIV has to do more with a cure for HIV than about transmission or infection.
I've had two patients in the past year, one white, one black, one male and one female, who have come to me with a cure for HIV that involved mixing a potion of mercury, and some herbs, and some leaves and some other things. And that if you drink it, you'd be cured of your HIV. So that is the most outlandish thing I've heard so far.
Sharon Gambles, San Francisco, Calif.; Diagnosed in 1989
It was the slobber. That was the craziest thing I heard about HIV; you can get it from saliva. This made me really do some research, because kissing, you know, spitting -- it's like you might as well say it's airborne, if you're saying it's coming from saliva. I know that HIV lives in a lot of fluids, but it's not enough in saliva to give somebody HIV. There hasn't been one documented case.
Danielle Phillips, Atlanta, Ga.
The craziest myth I've ever heard about HIV is that it's only a gay man's disease.
Stephen Gentile, Boston, Mass.
Back in the '80s, I heard a rumor that if you were close to somebody who had AIDS and they were speaking to you, and they actually were breathing on you, you would get AIDS . . . which is total bull; everyone knows that now. But back in the '80s, that's how it was.