With today being World AIDS Day, it seemed a good time to discuss myths and facts about HIV.
In spite of over two decades of research and science, there is still a lot of misinformation about HIV. Some of these will be discussed below.
Myth 1: You cannot get a test for HIV until six months after exposure.
Fact 1: Tests are now available at four weeks after exposure. These are called Duo tests and look for both the HIV antigen (p24) and antibody. There will be different policies at different clinics, but it is your right as a patient to have access to this test so if you clinic has it they must give it to you.
Myth 2: HIV can penetrate through condoms.
Fact 2: This is totally, absolutely wrong! The Catholic church has done a lot of harm to the campaign against HIV and AIDS by saying that HIV can penetrate a condom. Condoms are the best protection against HIV and if worn with every act of sexual intercourse (including oral sex) you will not get HIV. If the condom breaks, there is medication available to stop the transmission of HIV. This is called PEP and is available in most hospital emergency rooms. It is most effective if taken within twenty-four hours but can work up to seventy-two hours after exposure.
Myth 3: You cannot get HIV if you are the “top” or insertive partner in anal intercourse.
Fact 3: Wrong! HIV is contained in anal mucous. This means if you insert your penis into another person’s anus, the virus can easily get into your penis from this kind of sex. Wear a condom and you won’t need to worry about it.
Myth 4: If you get HIV you will definitely die from AIDS at a young age.
Fact 4: HIV medication and testing has vastly improved since the early ’80s. This means that people are diagnosed earlier which means that there is less permanent damage done to their immune system. This also means that medications are now effective at reducing the amount of virus (viral load) in a person’s body to such low levels that they can carry on as normal and live normal lives.
Myth 5: People with HIV cannot have children.
Fact 5: People with HIV can have children. If the man has HIV they can do what is called “sperm washing” to separate out the genetic material from the semen. They then use IVF methods to impregnate his partner. If the woman has HIV she can take HIV medication during the pregnancy, have a cesarean section delivery, and feed with formula and there will be less than 1 percent chance of passing it on to the child.
Myth 6: If you touch blood you will get HIV.
Fact 6: In order for HIV transmission to take place from blood there needs to be a significant amount of HIV which then needs a route into your own blood stream. Your skin is great at protecting you and HIV can’t get through the skin. This means that, other than sharing injecting drug needles with an HIV-positive person, the only way for this to happen would be if you had an open, gaping wound and someone with HIV bled into it! Also, HIV is actually quite weak, so even if you had a wound and it touched blood, if that blood was outside someone’s body the time, light, and temperature would likely have killed it so it would not likely be infectious.
Myth 7: You can get HIV from receiving oral sex. You can get HIV from kissing. You can get HIV from sharing glasses, forks, spoons, or other utensils.
Fact 7: HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva. Period.
Myth 8: You cannot get HIV from giving oral sex.
Fact 8: The simple answer is yes, you can get HIV from giving oral sex.
However, in practice, the answer is more complicated and it usually a low risk. Getting HIV by giving oral sex to a woman is extremely unlikely, by giving it to a man with no ejaculation (only pre-cum) is a higher risk but still unlikely, and by giving it to a man with ejaculation is the highest risk in terms of oral sex. If the person giving it has bleeding gums, cuts in the mouth, ulcers, recent dental surgery, or an irritated/sore throat, the risk will be increased because those things could be a pathway into their blood stream. In most cases the saliva will protect them because there are enzymes in the saliva that kill the virus, but there is always a theoretical risk. You need to take all of this into account when assessing your risk. See this website for more info.
Myth 9: It’s only gay men who get HIV.
Fact 9: Of the people infected with HIV worldwide 50 percent are women.
Myth 10: HIV and AIDS are the same thing.
Fact 10: HIV is the virus that eventually can lead to AIDS. AIDS is a syndrome, a group of illnesses, consisting of what are called opportunistic infections because a healthy person without HIV would never get these illnesses.
Myth 11: You can get HIV from snorting drugs.
Fact 11: Although HIV would be in the blood of shared snorting material, such as rolled bank notes or straws, the amount of blood necessary for transmission to happen would not be present. You need a large amount of blood to cause HIV transmission because the virus is fairly weak. However, you would definitely be at risk of infection from hepatitis C and potentially other blood-borne viruses. This is because there can be microscopic amounts of blood or mucous passing from one raw and irritated nose to the other. See this website for more info about HIV risks with drug use.
Myth 12: The government manufactured HIV to kill drug users, black people, and gay men.
Fact 12: It is now generally accepted that HIV originally came from Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV in monkeys) because certain strains of SIV bear a very close resemblance to HIV in humans. There are several theories as to how the virus crossed species and can be read here.
**It is important to remember that although these facts are absolutely true there will be different experiences of HIV and AIDS around the world. The most prominent example is the lack of access to medication in the Developing World.