AIDS Awareness: Dispelling Common Myths

Published on December 12, 2016 by Dr. Colin O'Brien

AIDS, also known as Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), is caused by contracting the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Although increased education and more effective antiretroviral treatments (ART) have allowed for a great advancement in the survival of those that are HIV positive or those with AIDS, there is still much misinformation that circulates and more education that must be done. Today, we dispel some of the most common HIV and AIDS myths:

Myth #1: HIV can be transmitted through insect bites, kissing or sharing utensils

HIV absolutely cannot be transmitted through insect bites, kissing, sharing utensils, sharing drinks, touching bare skin or sitting on the toilet of someone that is HIV positive. In order for HIV to be transmitted or acquired, there are certain environmental circumstances that must be in place. Namely, there must be an exchange of one of the following bodily fluids from a person that is confirmed HIV positive: semen or pre-ejaculatory fluid, blood, rectal fluid and vaginal fluid. Other forms of contact cannot transmit HIV to a non-HIV infected individual.

Myth #2: HIV is more of a concern for those that engage in homosexual activity

HIV infections can be transmitted through any type of vaginal, anal or oral sex, regardless of the heterosexual or homosexual nature. Although receptive anal sexual intercourse does carry a higher risk of transmitting the infection versus other activities such as oral sex. People should educate themselves on the risks and the safe practices when entering a sexual relationship with an HIV positive individual. In all sexual encounters, be sure to utilize appropriate barrier protection in the form of condoms. In addition, using shared needles is a non-sexual means of transmitting the virus. Only utilize needles that are sterile and brand new.

Myth #3: If you engage in unprotected sexual activity with someone that is HIV positive, you will definitely contract the virus

Not everyone that is exposed to HIV-positive fluids will contract the virus. There are two main reasons why this may occur. First of all, the amount of virus present in the fluid must be sufficient to cause an infection in the HIV-negative individual. Secondly, the HIV-negative person’s mucosal immune response may be strong enough to prevent viral entry. Essentially, the activity level of the virus in the HIV-positive individual as well as the immune state of the HIV negative individual both play a role in determining the risk of infection. Again, if both parties are educated in the way of safe practices, they should be responsible enough to to the research.

Myth #4: You would be able to tell if you were HIV positive or if your partner was HIV positive.

A blood test is the only definitive way to determine HIV status, further, a positive status may or may not develop into AIDS which is characterised by a constellation of symptoms from a number of “AIDS defining diseases”. It can take years before symptoms of AIDS appear in someone that has been infected with HIV, it may be dangerous to assume that they are HIV-negative just because they are asymptomatic. Empower yourself with plethora of knowledge to ensure you fully understand the risks and implications of sexual and high-risk non-sexual encounters.  

Myth #5: I don’t need to worry about getting HIV because the newer treatments are effective in managing AIDS

Although new antiretroviral treatments (ARTs) can be highly effective and allow for HIV-positive individuals to live long and relatively healthy lives, we are still waiting for a treatment that is 100% effective and without side effects. The prevention through education of HIV transmission will always be the most effective method of treatment.

If you are concerned that you have been at risk of contracting HIV, speak with your medical doctor immediately about testing or proceed to a walk-in medical clinic to be tested. You don’t lose anything by being tested and if you’re worried about the possibility of a positive test, remember that the only way to have effective treatment is by first having a proper diagnosis. Living in fear is not a strategy for your best health.

Select Reference:

Canadian AIDS Society. http://www.cdnaids.ca/wp-content/uploads/HIV_Transmission_Factors_that_Affect_Biological_Risk.pdf Accessed November 28, 2016.