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Fact Sheet

AIDS Myths and Misunderstandings

April 18, 2012

Why Are There so Many AIDS Myths?

When AIDS first showed up, it was a very mysterious disease. It killed a lot of people. There are still many unanswered questions about the disease. A lot of people reacted with fear and came up with stories to back up their fear. Most of these stories had to do with how easy it was to get infected with HIV. Most of these are not true.

Myths About "Catching" HIV

Many people believed that HIV and AIDS could be transmitted by a mosquito bite, by sharing a drinking glass with someone with AIDS, by being around someone with AIDS who was coughing, by hugging or kissing someone with AIDS, and so on. See Fact Sheet 150 for current information on how HIV is transmitted. Transmission can only occur if someone is exposed to blood, semen, vaginal fluid or mother's milk (see Fact Sheet 611) from an infected person. There is no proven case of transmission from the tears, sweat, saliva or urine of an infected person.

  • Myth: A pregnant woman with HIV infection always infects her baby.
    Reality: Without any treatment, HIV-infected mothers pass HIV to their newborns about 25% of the time. However, with modern treatments, this rate has dropped below 2%. See Fact Sheet 611 for more information about HIV and pregnancy.
  • Myth: HIV is being spread by needles left in theater seats or vending machine coin returns.
    Reality: There is no documented case of this type of transmission.

Myths About a Cure

It can be very scary to have HIV infection or AIDS. The course of the disease is not very predictable. Some people get very sick in just a few months. Others live healthy lives. The treatments can be difficult to take, with serious side effects. Not everyone can afford the medications. It's not surprising that scam artists have come up with several "cures" for AIDS that involve a variety of substances. Unfortunately, none of these "cures" work. Scientists are working hard on finding a cure for AIDS. See Fact Sheet 206 for more information on frauds related to AIDS.

A very unfortunate myth in some parts of the world is that having sex with a virgin will cure AIDS. As a result, many young girls have been exposed to HIV and have developed AIDS. There is no evidence to support this belief.

  • Myth: Current medications can cure AIDS. It's no big deal if you get infected.
    Reality: Today's medications have cut the death rate from AIDS by about 80%. They are also easier to take than they used to be. However, they still have side effects, are very expensive, and have to be taken every day for the rest of your life. If you miss too many doses, HIV can develop resistance (see Fact Sheet 126) to the drugs you are taking and they can stop working.

AIDS Is a Death Sentence

In the 1980s, there was a very high death rate from AIDS. However, medications have improved dramatically and so has the life span of people with HIV infection. If you have access to AIDS medications and medical monitoring, there's no reason you can't live a long life even with HIV infection or AIDS.

The Government Developed AIDS to Reduce Minority Populations

The world's best researchers in government and in private pharmaceutical companies are working hard to try to stop AIDS. Scientists don't know how to create a virus.

Many minorities do not trust the government, especially regarding health care. A recent study in Texas found that as many as 30% of Latinos and African Americans believed that HIV is a government conspiracy to kill minorities. However, it seems that minorities get less health care for the same reasons as anyone else: low income, inconvenient health care offices, fear of being sick, and so on.

Myths About Medications

It has been very challenging for doctors to choose the best anti-HIV medications for their patients. When the first drugs were developed, they had to be taken as many as three times a day. Some drugs had complicated requirements about storage, or what kind of food they had to be taken with, or how long you had to wait after eating before taking a dose. The medications have changed dramatically. However, there are still some myths:

  • Myth: You have to take your doses exactly 12 (or 8, or 24) hours apart.
    Reality: Medications today are fairly forgiving. Although you will have the most consistent blood levels of your drugs if they are taken at even intervals through the day, they won't stop working if you're off by an hour or two. However, some drugs, like Crixivan (indinavir) can require careful timing.
  • Myth: You have to take 100% of your doses or else the drugs stop working.
    Reality: It's very important to take AIDS medications correctly. In fact, if you miss more than about 5% of your doses, HIV has an easier time developing resistance (see Fact Sheet 126) and possibly being able to multiply even when you're taking your medications. However, 100% adherence is not realistic for just about anyone. Do the best you can and be sure to let your health care provider know what's going on.
  • Myth: Current drugs are so strong that you can stop taking them (take a drug holiday) with no problem.
    Reality: Ever since the first AIDS drugs were developed, patients have wanted to stop taking them due to side effects or to stop being reminded that they had AIDS. There have been many studies of "treatment interruptions" and all of them have shown that stopping your ARVs can cause problems. You could give the virus a chance to multiply (see Fact Sheet 125 on the viral load) or your count of CD4 cells (see Fact Sheet 124) could drop, a sign of immune damage.
  • Myth: AIDS drugs are poison and are more dangerous than the HIV virus.
    Reality: When the first AIDS drugs became available, they weren't as good as current medications. People still died of AIDS-related conditions. It's true that some people get serious side effects from AIDS medications, but the death rate in the US has dropped by about 80%. Researchers are working hard to make HIV treatments easier and safer to use.

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This article was provided by AIDS InfoNet. Visit AIDS InfoNet's website to find out more about their activities and publications.
See Also
More on HIV/AIDS Myths
Word on the Street: What Is the Craziest Myth You've Heard About HIV/AIDS?
10 Harmful Myths About HIV/AIDS
AIDS Myths

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Myles H. ( Fri., Jul. 9, 2010 at 5:39 pm UTC
@KINGCATO: Yep, if you heard that, it's definitely a myth. There's no "minimum" number of times you need to be exposed to HIV before it infects you. Some people become HIV positive the first time they're ever exposed to virus (usually through unprotected sex or sharing injection drug needles), while others can be exposed many times and just be lucky enough not to become infected.
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Comment by: KINGCATO (JACKSONVILLEFL) Fri., Jul. 9, 2010 at 5:15 pm UTC
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Comment by: leona jane (philippines) Thu., Sep. 10, 2009 at 8:41 am UTC
why were these misconceptions made? i mean what its real story
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Comment by: Mindy G. (Troy, Ohio) Sun., Aug. 16, 2009 at 11:27 pm UTC
This site was very informative. I was greatful for all the useful facts which I tend to use for an essay for college. I am glad to see there is so much progress to help those infected with HIV/AIDS. I am going into the healthcare feild after I receive my degree. I hope to help those afflicted by this horrible epidemic. If you read this and you are infected with AIDS, there are many people who do care, want to help, and are not scared to be around someone who has the HIV virus. It could happen to me or someone close to me. People should get educated on HIV. Advocacy, can help lower the risk of the spreading of this terrible life changing illness. Thanks again!
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Comment by: Bobli (Texas) Sun., Mar. 15, 2009 at 10:55 pm UTC
I am HIV - but I find the disease interesting. Very scary but a lot less scary than I used to think it was. It seems that there are a lot of promising treatments in spite of high costs.

It seems we have very promising research coming in the form of stem cells that could surface in the next few years. If I had HIV I think I would try to find a way to participate in one of those stem cell studies. Changing our genetics to produce a resistance to diseases could well be a way we could fight most every disease off in our future, not only HIV.
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Comment by: x (Australia) Sat., Mar. 14, 2009 at 10:42 pm UTC
We cant find a cure 'in a rainforest' because the virus keeps mutating and traditional vaccination doesn't work with this virus. Prevention is the best cure.
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Comment by: DIMPY (HYDERABAD ,INDIA) Mon., Mar. 9, 2009 at 7:59 am UTC
Thanks for the information. I can understand much better to help them.
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Comment by: Amethyst15 (Toronto, ONT) Mon., Dec. 15, 2008 at 11:05 am UTC
Thanks for putting this website up! It's going to get me an A+ on my school project! :)
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Comment by: Kyle Culp (Kennewick Wa) Mon., Dec. 8, 2008 at 12:53 pm UTC
This also helped with my school project.
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Comment by: kameika (Trinidad) Sat., Dec. 6, 2008 at 7:15 pm UTC
This site has given me greater insight into this disease and sure to help me score a great mark in my s.b.a thanks.
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Comment by: Bruce (crossville,tn) Mon., Nov. 17, 2008 at 5:45 pm UTC
this was very helpful with my school project!
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Comment by: Tue., Nov. 11, 2008 at 1:27 pm UTC
Why don't they travel into a rain forest to search for a cure?
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Comment by: Bianca (South Africa) Tue., Oct. 28, 2008 at 2:04 pm UTC
Thank you for this site it is very helpful for school work and knowledge.
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Comment by: Megan (Atlanta, GA) Wed., Oct. 8, 2008 at 9:11 pm UTC
Thanks so much for putting this site up. More people should read this! :)
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Comment by: Thu., Jul. 24, 2008 at 1:13 am UTC
Thank you your site is very helpful...
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Comment by: Thu., Jul. 17, 2008 at 7:55 pm UTC
thank you for all the information.
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Comment by: Chantz Thu., Jul. 3, 2008 at 1:36 pm UTC
HIV is not transmitted through saliva. If that cigarette came in contact with the ulcer and then made contact with an open sore in the uninfected persons mouth there is a very small chance it may have been passed.
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Comment by: Doug Sat., May. 24, 2008 at 5:15 am UTC
What are the chances of someone getting HIV if they were sharing a cigarette with someone, while having an ulcer in their mouth?
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