The truth is one of the best tools you have against HIV infection.
What's the best way to protect yourself against an HIV infection? Knowing fact from fiction. HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is much better understood now than in previous decades, so it's time to bust some myths about this condition.
Here are the most common myths about HIV/AIDS, according to hematologist Jeffrey Laurence, MD, of Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.
Myth: HIV is a death sentence.
Thanks to recent improvements in treatments for HIV, this infection is anything but a death sentence. In fact, people diagnosed with HIV today who follow their antiretroviral treatment regimens have a life expectancy nearly identical to those without HIV.
Myth: You can tell someone’s HIV status by looking at them.
You’ve probably seen photos of someone with more advanced HIV or AIDS looking weak, gaunt, or sickly, but that’s simply not the case for most people with HIV infection. In fact, many HIV symptoms are not visible to the eye. Never use someone’s appearance as confirmation of their HIV status: A test for HIV is the only way to know for sure.
Myth: HIV can be transmitted through hugs and kisses.
You do not need to be afraid to hug, hold hands, or even kiss someone with HIV infection. HIV is transmitted through infected fluids such as semen, vaginal fluid, and blood, as well as between mother and child. However, you should still practice good hygiene, says Dr. Laurence. For example, don’t share a razor or even a toothbrush since gums can bleed and infections can spread that way (but, um, you really should not be sharing toothbrushes with anyone in the first place).
Myth: There’s no reason to practice safe sex if both partners are HIV-positive.
It may seem fine to engage in unprotected sex since you and your partner both have HIV, but this is not the case. “The likelihood that you have identical viruses,” says Dr. Laurence, “is close to zero.” This could increase your risk of contracting a viral strain that’s resistant to the particular drug cocktail you’re using.
Myth: If you have HIV, you will definitely get AIDS.
This is only the case if you do not take antiretroviral therapy (ART), says Dr. Laurence. As long as you are taking ART, you have a very low chance of getting clinical AIDS and will likely live a normal lifespan.
Dr. Laurence is a hematologist and professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. He is the senior scientific consultant for programs at amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research.
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I'm still surprised how many people
think that HIV is a death sentence.
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And therefore, there's no reason to be
tested because I'm gonna die anyways.
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So why not go out not having to have
this burden for many, many years and
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it's completely untrue.
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A second major issue is that, I can tell
if someone's HIV-infected and I'll know.
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They'll have some symptom.
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I've seen those people
with wasting diseases.
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I've seen their faces and whatever.
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And that's absolutely completely untrue.
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Another potential myth is being afraid of
certain ways that HIV is not transmitted.
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So there's still people who are concerned
about, can I really kiss this person?
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Can I really hug this person?
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Can I really share utensils with
someone with HIV infection?
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Am I gonna be at risk
from that drinking glass?
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And none of that is true.
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HIV is transmitted through blood and
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bodily fluids that you
need to get into the body.
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And that's not by kissing and drinking
from a glass or sharing our utensil, and
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Now that doesn't mean that you
should ignore good hygiene.
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For example, you shouldn't share razors
with someone with an HIV infection.
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You shouldn't share a toothbrush
with someone with an HIV infection.
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The truth is I wouldn't do that with
anybody, but that's another story.
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Because it is a potential for something
to be on a toothbrush or on a razor.
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And if you're bleeding in your gums and
there happens to be some virus there,
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I guess it's not impossible
that it could get in there.
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You certainly don't wanna get blood or
some other bodily fluid
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on a cut wound on your body,
on an abraded skin on your body.
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Cuz that's just asking for
ways of getting this virus into your body.
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So two other things that are important to
talk about is many people feel that if
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you're in a monogamous relationship say,
and you're both HIV-infected,
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well, then there's no reason
to practice safer sex.
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Because that person has the virus and
I have the virus, so what?
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We're trading viruses,
we're infected anyway.
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And that's absolutely wrong.
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The reason is,
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is that the likelihood that you have
identical viruses is close to zero.
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Even if you started out getting infected
from the same source, let's say a blood
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transfusion, those viruses may
have mutated at different rates.
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So you don't wanna trade viruses
from one through another, and
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that's happened multiple, multiple times.
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So no, you don't want to stop practicing
safer sex just because you both have
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a viral infection.
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In terms of how infectious are you
if you're on effective therapy,
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well, this is good news.
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So if you're taking your anti-HIV
medications and your viral load is
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undetectable or even if it's just below
1,000, the likelihood that you're gonna
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transmit HIV sexually by needlesticks
to someone else is close to zero.
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It is not zero.
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It's very small.
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It's not zero, but it's a very,
very low risk and that's very good news.
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And it's absolutely not true that
if you have an HIV infection,
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you're gonna get AIDS.
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If you don't take antiretroviral therapy,
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the likelihood that you will get
AIDS is pretty close to 100%.
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On antiretroviral medications,
the likelihood that we're gonna prevent
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you from ever getting frank,
clinical AIDS is very, very good.
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And if you take your medications early and
maintain an undetectable viral load,
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and your CD4 count's above 500, the
likelihood that you're gonna live a normal
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lifespan is close to someone, identical to
someone who doesn't have an HIV infection.