Myths about HIV

 Identifying Myths about HIV       

Having correct information and knowing fact from fiction is an important step to HIV prevention. Listed below are a just some of the statements regarding HIV that are just plain false!  Have you heard any of these myths before?

 MYTH # 1:  HIV is not a problem in Ontario

By the end of 2009, 30,800 people in Ontario had been diagnosed with HIV and 9,990 had died. Approximately 25% of people who have HIV do not know that they’ve been infected. In 2009, there was an estimated 27,420 people living with HIV in Ontario and an estimated 1,535 new infections that year.  

MYTH # 2: To stop the spread of HIV people simply need to give up promiscuous sex and drug use

While unprotected sex and intravenous drug use are the two most common routes of HIV transmission, preventing HIV is not as simple as abstinence.  Addiction, mental health issues, socio-economic issues, and the social determinants of health restrict life choices, impact behavior and can lead to negative health outcomes. For example, economic dependency on partners, homelessness, sexual violence and experiences of trauma can all impact an individual’s risk of acquiring HIV.

MYTH # 3: HIV is the same as AIDS

HIV is the virus that leads to AIDS, but having HIV does not mean that you have AIDS. Today, available treatment in Canada can allow a person who is HIV positive to live a long and healthy life without ever progressing to AIDS.  AIDS diagnoses have shrunk significantly since the advent of HAART (Highly Active Retroviral Therapy). There were 2,221 cases of HIV reported in Canada in 2011, while only 151 cases of AIDS reported in the same year.

MYTH # 4: HIV is a death sentence

While HIV can progress to AIDS and lead to death without treatment, medication can allow people newly diagnosed with HIV to expect a near normal lifespan. However, even in Canada where treatment is readily available, addiction, mental health, housing insecurity, food insecurity, newcomer status and many other constraints may affect an individual’s ability to access and consistently take the medication they need.  For those who are able to access to treatment, medication side-effects and other issues such as stigma and discrimination may be more of a threat to wellbeing than the disease itself.

MYTH # 5: I could get HIV through casual contact from an HIV-positive roommate, friend, relative or colleague

You may have heard about a lot of different ways you can get HIV that are untrue. HIV is ONLY transmitted in the following FIVE bodily fluids:blood, semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids or breast milk. These fluids need to enter the blood stream through blood-to-blood contact, or by being absorbed in the body’s wet mucosal linings such as vagina or rectum.   Breast milk is an exception, which can transmit the virus to infants who are being breast-fed. HIV is not transmitted through kissing, touching, coughing/sneezing or by sharing food, drinks, dishes, utensils, towels, linens or clothes. HIV cannot be transmitted by sharing a pool, bathtub or toilet seat, or through saliva, sweat, tears, urine or feces.

MYTH # 6: HIV only affects gay men, or people who use drugs

HIV can affect anyone! Gay men and people who use drugs are over-represented in the epidemic, however HIV is not restricted to these communities. Diagnoses amongst women are increasing in both number and proportion in Ontario.

MYTH # 7: A pregnant woman who has HIV will always infect her baby

Without any treatment, about 25% of babies born to HIV positive mothers will acquire HIV. However, if treatment is employed, the chance of a woman transmitting the virus to her baby is less than 1%. An HIV positive mother in Canada will also be required to refrain from breast feeding, as breast milk is one of the five bodily fluids that can transmit HIV.

MYTH # 8: If both partners are HIV positive they don’t need to use a condom

Even if both partners already have HIV it is still important to practice safer sex. There are different strains of HIV, and even if you have one strain, you can still become infected with another. This can make treatment very difficult. Condoms are also important to prevent the transmission of STIs (sexually transmitted infections).

MYTH # 9: There is a cure for HIV

There is NO CURE for HIV. Although some research has made progress in this area, the prospect of a cure is still a long way off.  People with HIV are now living longer, healthier lives but this does NOT mean that they have been cured. People with HIV are often required to be on medications for the rest of their lives, in order to prevent them from developing AIDS.  Medications have many unpleasant side-effects and people living with HIV may face stigma, rejection and discrimination.

MYTH # 10: There is a vaccine for HIV

Similar to myth #9, media sensationalism may make the prospect of a cure or vaccine seem closer than it really is. There is no vaccine for HIV. The best way to protect yourself and others from HIV is to use condoms correctly and consistently, use safer drug use supplies, especially needles, and to get tested for HIV on a regular basis if you engage in high-risk activities (unprotected sex or sharing needles to inject drugs). It is also important for pregnant women to get tested for HIV. For people living with HIV, it is extremely important to adhere to medication, which enables people to life long and healthy lives, and also makes transmission significantly less likely.