There are many misunderstandings and misconception about HIV. Check how much you know with our 21 common myths and facts about HIV.
Myth: You can’t have a baby if you or your partner is HIV positive.
If someone with HIV decides to have a child, there are options available to them to enable them to have a baby without infecting their partner and steps that can be taken to ensure their baby is not HIV positive.
Myth: If you get HIV you’ll die soon.
Treatments have come a long way, and although there isn’t a cure for HIV, it is not a death sentence. People diagnosed with HIV today can have a normal life expectancy and live healthy and productive lives.
Myth: You can tell by looking at someone if they have HIV.
Often people with HIV will not appear ill. In fact, you generally cannot tell if someone is living with HIV.
Myth: It takes months before you can have a test for find out if you are infected with HIV.
A HIV test, that gives a reliable result, can be taken within a month of possible exposure to the virus.
Myth: If you have a test you face a long wait to find out the result.
Test results are now available quickly.
Myth: Only ga’y men get HIV.
Over 34,000 ga’y men in the UK (2010) have HIV but there are also many hetero’sexuals living with HIV in the UK. And a third of people with HIV in the UK are women. Anyone who has se’x without a condom or share needles when injecting drugs is at risk of HIV.
Myth: HIV is no longer a serious issue
More people than ever before are living with HIV in the Around 300,000 people are diagnosed every year and the number of people with HIV is growing each year.
Myth: I don’t know anyone living with HIV.
Today there are more people than ever before living with HIV , but less people report knowing someone with HIV. People with HIV generally look healthy and many do not find it easy to tell other people, so you may not realise if someone you know if HIV positive.
Myth: My partner would tell me if they had HIV.
It is not always easy to tell someone you have HIV. In addition, over a quarter of people with HIV are undiagnosed. It is dangerous to assume that your partner would tell you. Always using a condom is the safest way to protect against HIV transmission.
Myth: I don’t need to worry about HIV anymore because there are really good treatments available.
There is no cure for HIV. Although there are good treatments that mean people can live a long life with HIV, they require taking medication every day. There can be side-effects. There are also long-term consequences of living with a long-term condition and sadly there is still a lot of stigma and discrimination.
Myth: People with HIV can’t work.
Treatments today mean most people with HIV who are working say it doesn’t affect their working lives. In a recent NAT survey 70% of respondents had taken no HIV-related sick days in the last 12 months. There are currently only a very small number of jobs that people with HIV cannot do (e.g. being a surgeon).
Myth: Lots of people get free treatment for HIV
HIV-related free health is a myth. Although sometimes mentioned in the press there is no evidence that people travel with the express and primary purpose of getting HIV treatment. In fact the evidence shows that most migrants with HIV do not know they have it before they arrive.
Myth: Only old people get HIV.
In 2007, more than 700 young people (aged 16 – 24) were diagnosed with HIV, 11% of all new HIV diagnoses. Young men who have se’x with men remain the group of young people most at risk of acquiring HIV in the UK.
Myth: You can get HIV from someone who spits at you or bites you.
There is no risk of HIV infection from spitting and the risk of infection from biting is negligible. With over 60 million people infected with HIV worldwide over 25 years, there have only ever been four reports of HIV being transmitted through biting, both instances occurred in extremely specific and unusual circumstances.
Myth: You can get HIV if you stand on a discarded needle.
There has never been a case of HIV infection from a discarded needle in the UK. There have only ever been five cases of HIV infection from needle stick injuries; these have all occurred in healthcare settings and there have been none since 1999. HIV is a very fragile virus that does not survive for long when exposed to the environment.
Myth: HIV treatment is free to everyone in the UK who needs it.
Despite international promises to make HIV treatment universally available to everyone in need by 2010, the UK government still denies treatment to refused asylum seekers and other vulnerable groups who have no way of paying for treatment whilst in the UK.
Myth: It’s very easy for me to catch HIV from someone who is infected.
In the UK, you will only become infected by someone living with HIV if you have se’x without a condom or share a needle or injecting equipment with them. HIV is not spread through day-to-day contact, touching, kissing or sharing utensils. In addition, being on HIV treatment makes people with HIV far less likely to pass it on.
Myth: All young people learn about HIV and how to protect themselves at school.
Comprehensive se’x and relationships education is not compulsory in schools, so many young people, including young g’ay men, are not being given the information they need to protect themselves.
Myth: There are no symptoms of HIV
It’s true that some people don’t show any symptoms of HIV infection until after many years of living with the virus. But the majority of people with HIV (over 70%) do show some symptoms soon after infection. Symptoms usually develop about 10 days after infection. This is often called primary HIV infection or sero-conversion illness. Such symptoms disappear after two to three weeks and then a person can seem healthy for a number of years. The most common symptoms of primary HIV infection are fever, rash and severe sore throat all occurring together. This triad of symptoms is unusual in normally healthy people and should indicate the need for an HIV test.
Myth: There is no benefit to getting tested early if you think you have HIV.
Knowing early if you have HIV has two vital benefits. First, you can be evaluated for treatment even before symptoms appear. Generally, the earlier you start treatment the more effective it will be. Treatment today means that most people can live long, healthy and active lives. Secondly, if you know you are infected, you can help to prevent passing the virus on to others by practicing safer se’x.
Myth: My test results won’t be kept confidential.
Most testing is done in sex’ual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics. These clinics are legally bound to not reveal personal details and test results. GPs and private doctors also perform HIV tests, but the fact a person has had an HIV test, and the results, will appear on their medical records, but these should not be discussed with anyone else unless relevant to your treatment. If you are concerned about who else the results will be shared with, speak to your doctor about this.