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Myths and misconceptions about HIV and AIDS

More than 30 years after the discovery of the HIV virus, many people are in the dark about the realities of living with the disease, according to the National AIDS Trust.

In a 2014 poll, the charity found that only around 1 in 8 people realise you can have a normal lifespan with HIV with treatment.

Learn more about HIV/AIDS myths.

I can get HIV by being around people who are HIV positive.

The evidence shows that HIV is not spread through touch, tears, sweat, or saliva. You cannot catch HIV by:

  • Breathing the same air as someone who is HIV positive.
  • Touching a toilet seat or doorknob handle after an HIV-positive person.
  • Drinking from a water fountain.
  • Hugging, kissing, or shaking hands with someone who is HIV positive.
  • Sharing eating utensils with an HIV-positive person.
  • Using exercise equipment at a gym.

You can get HIV from infected blood, semen, vaginal fluid, or mother's milk.

I don't need to worry about becoming HIV positive - new drugs will keep me healthy.

Yes, antiretroviral drugs are improving the lives of many people who are HIV positive. However, many of these produce serious side effects. None yet provide a cure. Also, drug-resistant strains of HIV make treatment an increasing challenge.

I can get HIV from mosquitoes.

Because HIV is spread through blood, people have worried that biting or bloodsucking insects might spread HIV. Several studies, however, show no evidence to support this, even in areas with lots of mosquitoes and cases of AIDS. When insects bite, they do not inject the blood of the person or animal they have last bitten. Also, HIV lives for only a short time inside an insect.

I'm HIV positive - my life is over.

In the early years of the disease epidemic, the death rate from AIDS was extremely high. But today, antiretroviral drugs enable HIV-positive people, and even those with AIDS, to live much longer. In fact, from 2000 to 2004, the number of people living with AIDS increased by 30%.

I'm straight and don't use IV drugs - I won't become HIV positive.

Most men do become HIV positive through sexual contact with other men or through injection drug use. However, about 16% of men and 78% of women become HIV positive through heterosexual contact.

If I'm receiving treatment, I can't spread the HIV virus.

When HIV treatments work well, they can reduce the amount of virus in your blood to a level so low that it doesn't show up in blood tests. Research shows, however, that the virus is still "hiding" in other areas of the body. It is still essential to practise safe sex so you won't infect someone else.

My partner and I are both HIV positive - there's no reason for us to practise safer sex.

Practising safer sex - wearing condoms or using dental dams - can protect you both from becoming exposed to other strains of HIV.

I could tell if my partner was HIV positive.

You can be HIV positive and not have any symptoms for years. The only way for you or your partner to know if you're HIV positive is to get tested.

You can't get HIV from oral sex.

It's true that oral sex is less risky than some other types of sex. But you can get HIV by having oral sex with either a man or a woman who is HIV positive. Always use a latex barrier during oral sex.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on June 25, 2014

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