HIV and AIDS: Transmission myths and facts
Innovations in testing and treatment have greatly reduced the risk of contracting HIV and helped those with HIV live long and healthy lives.
In this article, we look at some common misconceptions about HIV transmission. It is vital to remember that undergoing HIV treatment makes it very unlikely that a person will transmit the virus to somebody else.
If a person suspects that they could have the virus or have risk factors, they may wish to talk to their doctor about testing.
Myth 1: A person can contract HIV from touching someone who has it
It is not possible to transmit or contract HIV by touching.
Fact: People cannot transmit or contract HIV simply by touching.
Shaking hands, hugging, high-fiving, or other types of physical contact will not transmit the virus.
A person can only contract the virus if they come into contact with the following fluids from a person who already has HIV:
- breast milk
These fluids must come into contact with another person's mucous membranes, such as in or on their rectum, vagina, penis, or mouth, for a person to be at risk of contracting HIV.
Transmission can also occur via broken skin or by using infected needles.
Myth 2: A person can contract HIV from infected insects and animals
Fact: Some people believe that they can contract HIV from infected insects. While insects can transmit some illnesses, HIV is not one of them.
To transmit HIV, a mosquito or another insect would have to bite a person with HIV, then inject the blood back into another person's body.
Insects do not re-inject old blood into a new person, so it is impossible for them to transmit HIV.
While other forms of the disease, such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), do exist, HIV only affects humans. Likewise, humans cannot contract FIV, which affects cats, or other immunodeficiency viruses in animals.
Myth 3: A person can contract HIV from infected water
Fact: HIV cannot survive in water. As a result, a person cannot contract the virus from swimming, drinking, bathing, or other activities involving water.
Also, a person cannot contract HIV from the saliva, sweat, or tears of a person with HIV, providing these water-based components do not have blood in them.
Myth 4: If a couple has HIV, they do not need to protect themselves
People with different strains of HIV can transmit them to one another.
Fact: Different strains of HIV exist. Therefore, if a person and their partner have two different strains of HIV, they can transmit these to each other.
Having more than one strain of HIV can make treating it more challenging, as medications target specific strains to prevent them from replicating.
Also, a person can still transmit and contract sexually transmitted infections from sex without a condom.
Using a condom or another form of barrier protection during sex and taking antiretroviral medications to prevent HIV transmission are vital. This is the case even if both partners already have HIV.
Myth 5: Blood transfusions raise the risk of HIV
Fact: Doctors in the United States and many other developed regions rigorously test the blood supply for a variety of blood-related conditions, including HIV.
Banked blood that is available for transfusion does not contain HIV. A person also cannot contract HIV from organ and tissue donations, as these have also undergone testing.
When scientists were first identifying HIV, they recognized the symptoms of the condition but did not know what virus caused it. As a result, they did not test donated blood for HIV.
Now, however, blood bank officials test donated blood to ensure that no viruses are present.
Myth 6: A person cannot contract HIV from oral sex or deep-mouth kissing
In rare cases, it is possible to contract HIV from open-mouth kissing if a person has blood in their mouth.
Fact: Doctors consider HIV transmission via open-mouth kissing (French kissing) and oral sex rare but possible.
During oral sex, placing the mouth on the penis, vagina, or anus can potentially expose a person to infected fluids that could enter mucus membranes in the mouth.
While the risk of contracting HIV as a result of oral sex is low, a person can still take steps to protect themselves if their partner is has HIV.
To prevent transmission, doctors recommend monogamous sex with a partner who is taking antiretroviral therapy consistently. Antiretroviral therapy can reduce a person's viral levels so that HIV is untransmittable.
Another rare mode of transmission is deep, open-mouth kissing. A person cannot contract HIV from kissing someone on the cheeks or even on the lips.
However, if kissing with an open mouth exposes them to sores or bleeding gums from a person with HIV, they could contract the virus.
It is essential to note that HIV is not transmitted through the saliva but through blood in a person's mouth.
Myth 7: A person cannot contract HIV from an old needle
Fact: HIV can survive in a needle for up to 42 days. There is no safe way to share needles.
A person should use new a needle each time they inject themselves with prescription or recreational drugs. They should also ensure that a tattooist uses fresh needles before getting a tattoo.
People cannot transmit AIDS, but they can transmit HIV. There are many treatments available to help prevent HIV from progressing to AIDS.
Anyone concerned that they may have HIV or face exposure to the virus may wish to speak to a doctor about testing.
By dispelling myths about HIV and AIDS, more people can seek diagnosis and treatment earlier and lead long, healthy lives.