5 Dangerous Myths About HIV You Must Stop Believing

The truth is one of the best tools you have against HIV infection.

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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.