Fact Check: HIV Transmission Myths

There are many myths and misconceptions floating around about how HIV is transmitted. It is necessary to get a reality check on some of these most bizarre misconceptions about HIV transmission. You should be aware that there are actually only a few ways that you can get infected by the HIV virus. However, it seems that when it comes to HIV myths and misconceptions, there is a whole range of them floating around, with people actually believing them. The fact is that most of these myths circulating on HIV are old, outdated, and misinformed. The only purpose these HIV-related myths serve is to keep reinforcing an HIV-related stigma and causing a long lasting and damaging impact on people’s lives. Today we make an attempt to debunk some of these myths about HIV transmission.

What is HIV?

Known commonly as its abbreviated form HIV, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a virus that attacks the immune system and causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). If left untreated, then a diagnosis of a late-stage HIV infection can prove to be fatal and it will also severely weaken the immune system. It is possible for a person infected with the HIV virus to transmit it to another under specific conditions. However, as many people believe, shaking hands or hugging a HIV-infected person is not going to spread the HIV infection. It is important that we understand the facts about HIV rather than resorting to believing any myth we hear about HIV transmission. This will not only prevent the transmission of HIV, but also stop the spread of misinformation.

Fact Check: HIV Transmission Myths

Let us debunk some of the common myths associated with HIV transmission and understand the facts about HIV.

HIV Transmission Myth 1: You can Contract HIV just by being around HIV-Positive Individuals

Fact: This is simply a myth. You cannot become infected by the HIV virus simply by being around people who are HIV-positive. You can only contract HIV if you come in contact with infected body fluids such as blood, vaginal fluid, semen, or even breast milk. Then also, this infected body fluid needs to come in direct contact with a mucous membrane such as the mouth, vagina, anus, etc., or with damaged tissue. You can also contract the virus if it is directly injected into your bloodstream. Kissing, hugging, sharing food or drinks, sneezing or coughing, toilet seats, touching or insect bites are not going to transmit the HIV virus.

HIV Transmission Myth 2: Going to the Cinema and Coming out with HIV

Fact: During the 1990s, this was a prevalent myth that strangers were leaving discarded needles inside your cinema chairs or even on gas pump handles to infect unassuming people with the HIV virus. In fact, there was a common story circulating that a girl got an unexpected needle stick injury while reaching underneath her cinema seat for picking up popcorn. The fact is that there is definitely a risk of HIV transmission between people who are sharing needles for drug use, but you really cannot contract HIV from a discarded needle. There has never been even a single recorded case of this happening. If you are, nevertheless, concerned that you may receive a needlestick injury, then getting yourself checked for hepatitis B and C is a good idea to make you feel relaxed.

HIV Transmission Myth 3: HIV can be Cured

Fact: As of today, there is no cure for HIV, and research continues to be ongoing in this field. However, it is possible to control the symptoms of HIV; and with treatment, HIV-positive individuals will be able to control the spread of the virus and live a long and healthy life. It is also possible for HIV-positive individuals to reduce the amount of HIV in their body to almost undetectable levels with the use of appropriate medication and treatment. Even though the level becomes undetectable, it is important to understand that HIV has not gone away and still remains present in the system. Till date, there has been only one case of Timothy Brown, who was seemingly ‘cured’ of HIV, but experts understand little about this case and the results have not been replicated in any further study.

HIV Transmission Myth 4: Transmission of HIV through Fruits

Fact: There are many pictures showing red-pigments fruits such as bananas or oranges circulating on the internet. These pictures warn you not to consume these fruits as they are supposedly injected with the HIV virus. There have been similar rumors with ketchup, pineapples, and even pizza containing toppings of bodily fluids. To clear things up, it is simply impossible to get HIV from any kind of food, be it a vegetable or a fruit. The fact is that even if HIV contaminated blood gets into the food that you are going to eat, the virus is unable to survive for this long outside of a human body in order to become transmittable. So continue to have those bananas and oranges without a fear of contracting HIV.

HIV Transmission Myth 5: HIV only affects Homosexuals

Fact: The truth is that the HIV virus does not discriminate against sexual orientation, race, gender, age, class, or any other factor. This myth is based on the fact that in the 1980s, the epidemic of HIV was particularly centered on homosexual men, and even today, statistics show that homosexual or bisexual men are still impacted by the virus at rates higher than heterosexual individuals. However, heterosexual women today represent one of the fastest growing rates of HIV infection in the United States. Therefore, to blindly believe that HIV only affects homosexual men is to ignore the actual statistics of the disease and also put others at risk.

HIV Transmission Myth 6: Girl goes to get Hair Salon, Comes back with HIV

There was a rumor in the United States in 2015 that a girl based in Georgia contracted HIV at her hair salon as the needles that were used to fix the hair weave to her scalp were dirty and infected. Reports said that she was diagnosed to be HIV-positive a week after going to the hair salon, amidst claims of never having engaged in sexual intercourse or using intravenous drugs. The story was later dismissed as a work of fiction. It is worth noting, though, that HIV transmission through needle stick injuries is extremely rare and probably not possible also. It is also incorrect to assume that someone can be diagnosed within just one week after exposure to the HIV virus. It takes anywhere between two weeks to three months to be detected with an HIV infection after its transmission.

HIV Transmission Myth 7: Colas can give you HIV

Fact: Similar to the myth mentioned above, there was also a rumor that a worker from Pepsi had added his HIV contaminated blood into the products, and people were advised not to drink any products from Pepsi. This rumor went around in an SMS message and was also falsely linked to being sent from the United Kingdom’s Metropolitan Police in 2017. In fact, since 2004, a form of this message has been circulating on the internet and it is incredibly damaging to any company’s image to have such misleading facts going around. Truth is that even if blood is added to the drink cans, HIV does not survive for long outside of the human body and therefore, it is not possible to contract the virus in such a manner.

HIV Transmission Myth 8: You are going to die if you have HIV

Fact: This is also entirely a myth. When the epidemic of HIV was first diagnosed in the 1980’s very little was known about the virus, how it works, how it gets transmitted, and of course how to treat it. Due to this immense lack of knowledge and the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, many people who were diagnosed eventually ended up dying. New research has now shown that people who tested positive for HIV can go on to live long and healthy lives. Doctors are now aware of how the HIV virus functions and there are much better treatments available for treating the symptoms of HIV. In fact, many HIV-positive individuals only need to take one pill a day to manage their condition. This HIV myth all the more indicates how important it is for everyone to be aware of the facts of HIV, thus helping to end the social stigma that is still associated to HIV/AIDS even in today’s age.

HIV Transmission Myth 9: Having many Sexual Partners and Drug Use is the only way to Contract HIV

Fact: Again a myth. It is true that unprotected sex and intravenous drug use are two common forms of HIV transmission, but there is more to the equation and it is not as simple as it appears. This HIV myth indicates that every person who is HIV-positive is either promiscuous or addicted to drugs. It also implies that HIV is a sort of a punishment for such kind of behavior. Reality is that preventing the spread of HIV is not limited to just promoting abstinence or refraining from drug use. Policing behavior, stigma, and preventing proper education about drug use and safe sex is detrimental to the HIV prevention efforts. Due to the lack of proper education on HIV transmission, nearly 1 in 7 people having HIV remain unaware about how they contracted the virus. Therefore, promoting knowledge about safe sex and drug use is the need of the hour, particularly in teenagers and young adults.

HIV Transmission Myth 10: Mosquitoes Spread HIV

Fact: It is simply not possible to get HIV from mosquitoes or for that matter, any insects. When an insect, mosquito, for example, bites you and sucks your blood, it does not inject the blood of the last person it had bitten back into your bloodstream. Therefore, it is simply impossible to get infected with HIV in this manner and this mode of transmission of HIV is a ridiculous myth.

Conclusion

When HIV first emerged as a life-threatening condition, it was assumed to be equivalent to getting a death sentence that carried a social stigma. With the advances in medical science, researchers have done extensive studies on HIV transmission and have also developed high-quality treatments that now allow HIV-positive individuals to continue having a long and productive life. These treatments also have been successful in practically eliminating the risk of HIV transmission during sexual intercourse. Improved HIV education and debunking of myths related to HIV transmission are going to go a long way in ending the social stigma still attached with people having HIV/ADIS.

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