Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, and is spread through contact with bodily fluids. HIV can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), the third and final stage of an HIV infection which results from severe damage to the immune system that causes it to become severely ineffective. Unfortunately, many misconceptions exist about HIV and AIDS that can cause significant amounts of fear, worry, and shame—and no one should feel shame about getting tested for HIV or any other kind of sexually transmitted disease. Our blog today covers some common myths about HIV debunked and some additional helpful information.
Myth: HIV can spread through touching or kissing
Fact: HIV does not spread through physical touch. This includes holding hands, hugging/cuddling, and even kissing. HIV spreads through contact with specific types of bodily fluids, and even though it exists in fluids like saliva, there’s not enough of it to transmit through kissing. HIV spreads through the following bodily fluids:
- Breast milk
- Preseminal fluid
- Rectal mucous
- Vaginal fluid
HIV can also be transmitted through used needles with infected blood on them, though the healthcare industry and blood donation industry have careful regulations in place to ensure you won’t transmit or receive HIV through IVs or giving blood. It can also potentially be transmitted through pregnancy and child-bearing to a newborn.
Myth: HIV is a death sentence
Fact: While HIV used to indicate a shortened lifespan decades ago when it was first being studied, this is no longer the case. HIV is a viral infection that, while it is currently incurable, can still be treated well if caught early. In fact, modern HIV treatments can often help patients live just as well and just as long as people without HIV, and these treatments can also protect their partners against transmission.
Myth: HIV always leads to AIDS
Fact: AIDS is the final, chronic form of an HIV infection, which can result if HIV is left untreated for a significant amount of time. People with HIV won’t necessarily contract AIDS, especially if they keep up with their treatment.
Myth: HIV symptoms are obvious
Fact: You may have HIV and not be aware of it. HIV symptoms can be slow to appear, or may not appear at all. There are three stages to an HIV infection. The first stage includes initial virus symptoms like fever and fatigue that resemble the flu. Some people, however, may not experience these symptoms, or may only experience a mild version of them. The second stage often lacks symptoms, and can last for years. AIDS is the third stage, and oftentimes the symptoms that people think are correlated with HIV are actually symptoms that result from having an AIDS-compromised immune system. This is why it’s so important to get tested for HIV, especially if you have had unprotected sex with any number of partners.
Myth: HIV-positive people can’t have children
Fact: HIV-positive people can have children, but they may risk passing HIV onto their children unless they are treated during pregnancy with antiretroviral medication, give birth by C-section, and/or don’t breastfeed. With the proper knowledge of HIV prevention, parents can avoid transmitting HIV to their children completely and allow their children to live healthy lives from birth.
Myth: If a couple has HIV, they don’t need to protect themselves
Fact: HIV-positive couples still need to protect themselves and each other and receive treatment. This is because both partners may have different types of HIV that could endanger each other, which can lead to reinfection. This is why it’s still important to use protection during sexual intercourse, especially if you and your partner are both HIV-positive, and why it’s important to be aware if both or either of you have HIV.
Myth: People in heterosexual relationships don’t get HIV
Fact: Anyone in any sexual relationship can contract HIV. Because HIV spreads through sexual fluid contact with the body’s membranes, such as in the mouth, vagina, penis, or rectum, it’s possible for it to transmit from partner to partner no matter what kind of intercourse you have had or will have. This myth in particular can be extremely damaging, as it contributes to unfounded stereotyping or profiling.
Myth: Birth control protects against HIV
Fact: Most forms of contraception will not protect against HIV. The only forms of birth control that can offer protection against HIV are contraceptives that create a physical barrier to block fluids from entering a partner’s body. Such forms of contraception are: male condoms, female condoms, or dental dams.
Myth: It’s too late to get tested for HIV
Fact: It’s never too late to be tested for HIV. A general practitioner will typically recommend regular STD testing, including for HIV, for any individual who participates in non-monogamous sexual activity. There is no shame in exploring sexuality, and no shame in receiving regular testing to help prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases or infections.
MYTH: There’s no way to prevent HIV
Fact: There is a pill you can take that decreases the risk of getting infected with HIV. It’s called PrEP, or Pre-exposure prophylaxis. Much like birth control, it isn’t 100% effective, but it greatly reduces your chances of getting infected when taken as directed by your provider. Proper condom use also decreases your risk of getting infected. Community Access Network has providers who are trained in prescribing PrEP.
Fact: Community Access Network is here to help
There’s no shame in getting tested for HIV—in fact, getting tested is a great way to show your partner or partners that you care about both your sexual health and theirs. If you do have HIV or AIDS, we can guide you along the path to ongoing wellness and treatment for your condition. In fact, CAN has providers specially trained in HIV care available to help without you having to be seen in another clinic. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!