October is AIDS Awareness Month, and while the medical community’s response to the disease has grown by leaps and bounds, many of us are still in the dark about the basics.
Since the moment it first arrived on the scene, HIV/AIDS has been shrouded in confusion, misconception and fear. We know much more about the disease today than we did when the pandemic began in 1981, and today, we can approach the virus with facts instead of fear. Almost 37 million people are living with HIV, and about 5,600 people contract it each day. Solutions start with awareness, so educate yourself on these common myths about the disease!
1. Myth: You can spread HIV/AIDS by kissing, hugging, or just hanging out.
Reality: HIV/AIDS is contracted through blood, sexual fluid, and breastmilk. It is not contracted through tears, saliva, sweat, hugging, kissing, sharing toilet seats or towels, or through other common forms of casual contact.
2. Myth: Modern medicine has made HIV/AIDS hardly worth worrying about.
Reality: The prognosis for HIV/AIDs patients is brighter than ever, but preventing infection should still be taken very seriously. There is still no cure, and while retroviral medications are available to vastly improve patients’ lives, they can be costly, come with intense side effects or be hindered by drug-resistant strains of HIV.
3. Myth: Mass devastation from the virus is mostly a thing of the past.
Reality: While the United States often remembers the first few turbulent years following AIDS’ emergence in 1981 as a bygone era, the disease is still wreaking havoc around the world. In 2012, 25 million people were living with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, and millions more are infected around the globe each year. While modern medicine can make life with the virus much easier, retroviral therapy isn’t always available to those who need it—only 41 percent of people living with HIV around the world have access to the medication.
4. Myth: Having sex with a virgin will cure the virus.
Reality: Not only does this not cure the disease, but it puts another person at risk for infection.
5. Myth: If you look and feel healthy, you must not be infected.
Reality: Many people infected with HIV have no idea they have it. HIV can live in the body without causing symptoms for years, but during this time, the infected person is still contagious. If you think you’ve been exposed to the virus, be sure to get tested even if you’re not experiencing any symptoms—both to protect others and to get a leg up on potential treatment if you test positive.
6. Myth: When both partners in a relationship are infected, they don’t need to worry about having safe sex.
Reality: There is often a risk of transmitting different strains of the virus during unprotected sex, so even two partners who are already infected should be vigilant.
7. Myth: HIV/AIDS is a death sentence.
Reality: Life with HIV today can mean living a normal, healthy lifespan with the help of groundbreaking medication. Living with the disease is more like having a chronic illness, like diabetes or heart disease, than the terrifying death knell it was decades ago. Life can be just as wonderful with or without the diagnosis.
For more information on how to protect yourself and to help make HIV/AIDS a thing of the past, visit AIDS.gov or AVERT.