What's true and what's not when it comes to AIDS? Here's a look at some common myths surrounding HIV infection and AIDS.
Myth: HIV and AIDS are the same.
Fact: HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus, is the virus that causes AIDS. When someone has HIV, it means he or she has been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus. HIV can damage your immune system so you can't fight off other infections and diseases. Most people with HIV eventually will develop AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. This is the most advanced stages of HIV infection, and means that the immune system has been seriously damaged. About half the people infected with HIV develop AIDS within 10 years. AIDS is a syndrome, a group of symptoms that collectively indicate a disease. In the case of AIDS, symptoms can include the development of certain new infections and cancers, and a decrease in the number of special cells in the immune system. AIDS ultimately causes death.
Casual contact OK
Myth: It's not safe to be around people who have HIV or AIDS.
Fact: It's safe to work with, go to school with and live with people who have HIV or AIDS. You cannot get HIV or AIDS through everyday contact, such as shaking hands, hugging or using objects (such as a telephone or toilet seat) that have been touched by a person who has HIV. You cannot get HIV from an infected person's cough, sneeze, sweat, tears, urine or feces. HIV is not spread by biting insects.
HIV lives in the blood, semen and vaginal fluids of the infected person. The only way you can get HIV is if one of these infected fluids gets into your blood. This can happen if you have anal, oral or vaginal sex with someone who has HIV or AIDS. It can also happen if the fluid enters your body through a cut in your skin. You can get HIV by using unsterilized needles for tattooing, piercing or injecting drugs that were previously used on someone infected with HIV. Women can transmit HIV to their babies during pregnancy, birth or breast-feeding. HIV does not survive well outside the body, making the possibility of catching HIV from everyday objects very unlikely.
Myth: There's not much I can do to protect myself.
Fact: You can do a lot to protect yourself. The only ways to be sure you won't get HIV is to not have sex, not use needles previously used by an infected person and not have a transfusion with infected blood or blood clotting factors.
If you do choose to have sex, research shows that you can help protect yourself by doing these things:
Before having sex for the first time with a person, both partners should get an HIV test.
Limit your sexual partners to those you know have no sexually transmitted diseases or HIV.
Use a new latex condom correctly each time you have anal, oral or vaginal sex.
Never use a needle that someone else has used.
Before donated blood was screened for HIV infection and before heat-treating techniques to destroy HIV in blood products were introduced, HIV could be transmitted through transfusions of contaminated blood or blood components. Today, because of blood screening and heat treatment, the risk of getting HIV from such transfusions is extremely small.
Myth: People like me don't get HIV or AIDS.
Fact: It's what you do, not who you are, that matters. HIV infects all sorts of people, including those of different races, ages and income levels.
Myth: I am better off not knowing if I am infected.
Fact: If you have HIV, the sooner you find out, the sooner you can get the support you need. There is no cure for HIV, but drugs used to treat HIV and AIDS help some people live longer, healthier lives. Also, you can take steps to protect your partner from getting HIV.