What Is the Most Outrageous Myth You've Heard About HIV/AIDS?

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Even though the facts about HIV are well known and agreed upon by every HIV specialist and every single HIV/AIDS organization in the United States, there remains a lot of misinformation about HIV. We asked HIV-positive people and people who work on the frontlines as nurses, advocates and educators what have been some of the most outrageous myths they've heard. Here's what they had to say. Please feel free to add myths you've heard in the comment section below.

Jorge Zepeda, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, San Francisco, Calif.

"If I take a contraceptive pill, I'm not going to get HIV" -- that's one.

The other one is a guy saying to a woman: "You don't menstruate anymore, so I don't have to use a condom."

We don't have an integrated reproductive health education package [in the U.S.]. We dissect HIV and then we have other STDs and then we have reproductive health.

We don't put an integrated message out there.

Jack Mackenroth, New York City, diagnosed in 1990

The craziest, most outlandish myths I've ever heard about HIV are probably the misconceptions about how it's contracted.

I still think, even with all the education out there, there are people who think you can get HIV by kissing, and think you can get it by drinking out of the same cup as someone with HIV. Even in the gay community -- it's obviously not a gay disease, but you would think that gay men would be really educated on the subject matter, and I'm still, every once in a while, surprised at the things that people say.

Yolanda Diaz, New York City, diagnosed in 1989

The craziest myth that I've heard about HIV is that you can have "full-blown AIDS" -- like, if you're "full-blown pregnant"!

Either you have HIV or you have AIDS.

Also, the myths of: "Oh, I got HIV." "You're gonna die!" I think that now, in the year 2008, people are really living with the virus because of medication, herbs, acupuncture, reiki, meditation, and I could go on. So many things that are out there -- I can see that people are just living with the virus instead of freaking dying with it, you know?

Mark King, Atlanta, Ga., diagnosed in 1985

When I was working in prevention in Los Angeles, I once heard from heterosexual teenagers ...

... that if they put a slice of orange across a girl's vagina and it changed color, she had HIV.

Wow! That's one I've never heard before.

Really? Well that's good. Fortunately, that one didn't catch on [laughs].

On a more serious note, it's funny because I often get questions from people who want to know if they can be infected by some extremely remote scenario. I call those "fantasy scenarios." I always caution people that we can get caught up in these fantasy scenarios of how they might catch HIV because we don't want to think about the real ways, because it's uncomfortable to talk about sex or drugs. Unfortunately, that's how you get it and those are the ways we should be discussing how to prevent it.

Michael Cerveris, Actor, New York City

There are so many to choose from. In the early days, the myths were that toilet seats, shaking hands ...

... or people who have AIDS coughing in the same room could give someone HIV. It's hard to think of one single most ridiculous, most outrageous myth.

It would be funnier if the repercussions weren't so tragic. People's lives are affected by that kind of ignorance, so it's hard to really appreciate the humorous stupidity of people.

If you think about having sex, you might get AIDS: People would actually say things like that!

Brenda Chambers, Indian Walk-In Center, Salt Lake City, Utah; Diagnosed in 2003

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.