Myths arise from lack of accurate information about many elements in life. For example, people used to think that the world was flat. Now we most certainly know that is not true, but scientists and astronomers even believe this possible and accurate at one point in history.
Some of the modern myths associated with HIV are listed below, as well as the factual truths:
Myth: I can get HIV from touching a person affected or being in the same room as them.
Truth: Touching or hugging someone with HIV does not mean you will be infected with the virus. The virus is principally transmitted sexually through sexual intercourse and exchange of body fluids.
Myth: I can get HIV by sharing cups, knives and forks etc with someone who is infected with the virus.
Truth: You cannot catch HIV by sharing implements.
Myth: People with HIV all look the same.
Truth: People with HIV look as different to each other as the general population does. How can we tell if someone has HIV by just looking at them? Some people think that people with the virus look thin but people come in all shapes and sizes anyway. The only way to tell whether someone has the virus is through an HIV test.
Myth: If I am tested and found to be HIV positive, then I have AIDS.
Truth: AIDS is a certain stage of the disease. People with HIV can live healthy and productive lives for many years before they develop advanced disease (AIDS). HIV and AIDS are lumped together in terminology, which gives the impression that they are one and the same.
Myth: If I have sex with someone outside my relationship, I will not get HIV.
Truth: Being unfaithful has its risks. We always say that when you have sex outside a relationship that it becomes like a ‘lottery’ – your chances of winning are always there just as are your chances of losing (catching HIV). Unless you know the status of your sexual partners and their sexual behavior, you must always take precautions.
Myth: If I have sex with another HIV positive person then I will automatically be infected.
Truth: When you have unprotected sex with an HIV positive person, you may or may not be infected by them. It is important to reflect on why you are taking such a risk if you are doing so.
Myth: If I use a condom then people will think I am HIV positive.
Truth: The modern approach of using a condom to protect yourself from infections you may get from your partner, is the correct one. You may not know their status or their sexual history, so there is nothing wrong with saying: “lets condomise to protect each other—until we know our status.”
Myth: People who have HIV are being punished by God.
Truth: A disease is not a punishment; it is a fact of life. There are many diseases that we get such as Ebola, polio, smallpox, measles, and flu. HIV is just another viral disease that, because it is sexually transmitted, is considered a punishment by some people. People who are infected have been made to feel guilty by those who are not infected. If you were infected by a sexual partner (who has many partners), how can this possibly be your fault? It is nobody’s fault but it is possible to protect yourself from someone else’s irresponsible behavior by ensuring you are protected at all time.
Myth: HIV was introduced into society to punish homosexuals.
Truth: HIV is a virus like any other and affects homosexuals and heterosexuals. It has no preference for race, class, religion etc.
Myth: Culture says that using a condom is wrong.
Truth: Cultures are created by groups of people making decisions for others. If a group of elders makes a decision, then it often becomes culture and is entrenched in local community law. The fact is that culture is often based on an unfortunate lack of information. Cultural beliefs need to be changed as time progresses, just as laws need to be adapted and amended from time to time.
Myth: HIV will never affect me.
Truth: HIV can affect anybody. There are certain cultural and economic groupings that think they can never be exposed to the virus. This is often incorrect and based on the assumption that they are better than others. This applies to communities where there are high levels of sexual taboo and an atmosphere of self-righteousness. Some of the biggest increases in HIV infection are being seen in these groups.
Myth: I cannot get HIV because I am not a homosexual or a prostitute.
Truth: Anybody (regardless of age, race or class) who is sexually active can be exposed to HIV and can be infected if they have more than one partner.
Myth: I can be cured if I have sex with a virgin or a child, as I will then be purified.
Truth: Once the person is infected with HIV, it cannot be removed from the infected person as there is still no cure for the virus. Sleeping with a virgin or a child is often an act of desperation based on wrong information. Forcing someone to have sex with you is also illegal, and very immoral.
Myth: People with HIV cannot continue to work.
Truth: People with HIV can continue to lead productive lives for many years. It is important to accept them as part of the workforce and to not stigmatise their condition. Very often people with HIV get depressed because of the reaction of others. This can be a real problem, as they often feel unwanted and marginalised from society.
Myth: Children should not be allowed to go to school because they are HIV positive.
Truth: Children who are HIV positive should not be treated any differently to those who are HIV negative. Their status is not a danger to anyone else and they are entitled to live normal lives. This is part of the stigma to the disease. Precautions can be taken so that the risk of spreading the disease is mitigated.
Myth: My religion says I must not use a condom because it stops pregnancy.
Truth: Many religions suggest that stopping pregnancy is not the correct thing to do. It is important to recognize that whether you have sex or not – that this is your decision only and some churches promote abstinence. However, HIV has nothing to do with pregnancy and the use of condoms in this instance is to prevent transmission. Many Churches however would disagree with this stance.
Myth: Women are the source of HIV as there are more women infected than men.
Truth: Men are more infectious than women. The reason more women are infected is that they are more prone to infection because of their biological makeup. They are more prone to infection because during sex, men insert their penises into women and their semen (if infected), may come into direct contact with the woman’s vaginal fluids (especially blood) and lead to the mixing of body fluids. During sex, the man can be protected by his own skin.
Myth: HIV is transmitted by the sperm and means an infected man can produce an HIV positive baby.
Truth: HIV is found in the body fluids—the fluids which contain the sperm. When a baby is conceived, it is HIV negative in the womb. The baby is normally infected only at birth when the mother goes into labour, and the baby’s body fluids and the mother’s blood mix. If the mother has a sexually transmitted disease during pregnancy, then there is a higher risk that the baby may be infected in the womb.
Myth: I have heard that people who are tested and are HIV positive become HIV negative and are cured.
Truth: People who are tested positive will always be positive. Sometimes people who test positive are diagnosed as such because the test is faulty. It is therefore important to confirm a positive result with a second test. Once people produce antibodies to the virus (the test detects these antibodies—not the virus), the body will always have the antibodies. The same occurs with other infections such as chicken pox. There is, however, one exception to this. Babies born to HIV positive mothers often test HIV positive. This is because the antibodies pass from the mother to the child during pregnancy. If the child is not infected with HIV then these antibodies will disappear after 15–18 months. However, if the baby is infected during birth or during the period while the mother is breastfeeding the infant, then the child will develop its own antibodies to HIV.
Myth: The antiretroviral drugs will kill me.
Fact: Taking the drugs at the correct stage of the disease will help to fight HIV infection. It sometimes happens that people are diagnosed at the late stages and it is the infections that kill them even after they have started taking the drugs. There are side effects from the drugs but the drugs cannot kill you.
Myth: The antiretroviral drugs do not work.
Truth: The drugs are very effective if taken correctly. People fail to improve while on treatment because often they do not take the drugs correctly (and/or stick to them), and the virus learns to fight the drugs. This is called drug resistance.
Myth: Immune boosters will stop me from dying.
Truth: Immune boosters often contain a mixture of vitamins and minerals that help to keep the immune system healthy, but eventually the HIV will destroy the immune system. Very often, immune boosters are expensive and the money can be better spent on good healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables. These natural substances are the best immune boosters available (they are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, AND they fill your stomach). When an individual starts treatment, it is important that they inform their doctors of what other herbs and supplements they are taking, since many of these products interfere with the antiretroviral drugs and may impact on the success of treatment.