10 Most Common Myths and Misconceptions About HIV

Popular Fallacies Increase Risk of Infection or Illness in People with HIV

In our day-to-day lives, we generally don't spend all that much time thinking about HIV if we don't have it. We, therefore, pick up pieces of information here and there—some of which we've heard in passing, others of which may be years outdated. In the end, we often hold these "facts" as truths despite them being way off the mark.

Even those who are living with the disease sometimes get it wrong and not so much because they've been misled or don't know better.

The truth is there are a lot of lingering myths and misconceptions about HIV, which are not only putting people at risk for infection but preventing tens of thousand from getting the care and treatment they may desperately need.

1
I am going to die early if I get HIV.

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Photograph © meudinoy

Mortality rates among people with HIV are far higher than that of the general population. But does that mean you, as an individual, are going to die early if you get HIV? The research, in fact, tells us just the opposite if you get the care and treatment you need at the time of diagnosis.

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2
I don't need an HIV test.

Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

This may seem perfectly fair to you. You may think that because you are not gay, don't inject drugs, don't sleep around, and make a point of using a condom every time, you are at no risk of HIV. But the current guidance from the U.S. Preventive Service Task Force says differently.

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3
I can wait to start treatment until I really need it.

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Photograph © Giorgio Montersino

Not true. The fact is that by delaying HIV therapy, you not only increase the risk of getting an HIV-related infection, you are twice likely to get certain cancers, cardiovascular disease and other non-HIV-related diseases later in life (and often 10-15 years earlier than in non-infected people). Public health guidelines today recommend treatment on diagnosis. Learn why.

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4
I have nothing to worry about if I take my HIV meds every day.

Paul Bradbury/Getty Images

There is some truth to that. If you are HIV-positive and take your medications every day as directed, you'll have every chance of living a normal life span. But there are number of spoilers which can take back up to 8, 12 and even 15 years of life, even among those who are fully adherent to therapy.

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5
It's okay to miss a few doses of my HIV drugs.

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Photo Credit: Francesco

Let's just say that it's human to miss a few doses of your HIV drugs. It happens. But the sad fact is that nearly 40% of Americans on HIV therapy are unable to achieve an undetectable viral load (the measure of treatment success.) The majority of these are due entirely to suboptimal drug adherence and nothing else. Sure, if you miss an occasional dose it won't be a problem. But there is a point where it can be.

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6
I don't have to use a condom if I take the HIV prevention pill.

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Photograph © Katie Salerno

HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a strategy by which the use of a daily antiretroviral pill can reduce the risk of getting HIV by as much as 92%. That's good news, right? But the question is this: does PrEP works the same in all individuals and, more importantly, does it mean we can now throw out the condoms once and for all?

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7
I can avoid getting infected if I take PrEP before sex.

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Photograph © Queereaster Media Working Group

In 2015, the IPERGAY study suggested that gay men might be able to take PrEP "on-demand" to avoid getting HIV during sex. And while the results are, indeed, compelling, looking at the fine print tells us we have a long way to go before making such claims.

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8
I can stop using condoms if I have an undetectable virus.

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This is more of a near-truth. The fact is that a person on HIV therapy who fully suppresses the virus to undetectable levels is less likely to transmit the virus. But that doesn't mean there aren't factors that can increase or decrease risk on an individual basis.

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9
We're on the brink of curing AIDS.

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International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI)

So much media attention has been placed on the latest HIV "breakthrough" that it's often hard to separate fact from hype. That's not to say that there is a lot of valuable research being conducted, and advances are being made every day. But to suggest that we are anywhere near the brink of a cure is, at best, overly optimistic.

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10
HIV is not as big of a problem as it used to be.

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Don't get us wrong. There have been enormous successes in the global fight against HIV, with reversals in the number of HIV-associated deaths and  illnesses in many countries as a result of expanded antiretroviral treatment. Even officials from the U.N. now suggest that the epidemic as we know it could be over by 2030 with further investment from global and domestic funders. But take a closer look. Even in South Africa, the country with the most ambitious antiretroviral program in the world, the numbers aren't adding up.

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