HIV/AIDS: Facts and Myths
By Hana Tesfaye-Berhanu / go back to Third Issue
Growing up, AIDS was something that was kept hush-hush… and for the most part, it still is. Parents don’t talk to their children about it, while youth and young adults assume themselves to be immune. Some think to themselves,
◙ “It’ll never happen to me. I’m not promiscuous….”
◙“I know how to practice safe sex. I had sex education in 5th grade and practiced putting on a condom using a banana!”
◙ “I’m in a committed relationship. I onlyhave onesexual partner.”
◙“I don’t use drugs…I’ve experimented here and there, but I’m not a junkie.”
If the 5th grade sex education was enough, or if putting on a condom was enough, or if being in a (so-called) “committed” relationship was enough, then why are so many people—especially young African and African American men and women—being infected with the virus?
Despite the many advances of technology and medicine, and despite years of battle with the topic, HIV/AIDS remains a subject about which many are lethally unfamiliar and ignorant; an alarming number of people believe false teachings about the virus which has been passed on from generation to generation due to lack of access to information and to a stigma on sexually transmitted disease. The time has come for us (young men and women of all colors) to begin educating ourselves, our parents, siblings, relatives, and community.
In gathering information to share about the misconceptions and misunderstandings that many have about HIV/AIDS, I came across a simple four letter word that has contributed to the horrific epidemic: MYTH. Below you will find a list of myths about HIV/AIDS, and after each myth, I give you the real FACTS. Please, take a minute to educate not only yourself, but also those around you. Each one teach one, and united we can raise awareness!
Seven Deadly Myths
► Myth: HIV/AIDS can be transmitted by hugging, kissing, and being around someone with the virus.
► Fact: Transmission can only occur if someone is exposed to the blood, semen, breast milk, pre-ejaculate fluid, or vaginal fluid of an infected person. HIV can also be transmitted through needles contaminated with HIV-infected blood, including needles used for injecting drugs, tattooing or body piercing.
HIV/AIDS cannot be transmitted by
- touching, hugging, holding hands, or kissing
- Toilet seats or doorknob handles
- Sharing eating utensils.
- Mosquito bites.
► Myth: You cannot get HIV if you are using birth control methods like diaphragms, cervical caps, sponges, spermicides, Depo-Provera, Norplant, or the Pill.
► Fact: The birth control methods mentioned above do not prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) such as HIV. They only aim to prevent pregnancy.
Note: Condoms are the only method that can help prevent HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ”Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV.”But condoms only work if they are used every time and used correctly, and even then, they may not be 100%.
► Myth: HIV/AIDS is a gay disease
► Fact : Everyone is at risk of getting HIV from blood-to-blood contact, sharing needles or unsafe sex. Worldwide, HIV is spread most often through heterosexual contact.
► Myth: Since I only have oral sex, I'm not at risk for HIV/AIDS.
► Fact: You can get HIV by having oral sex with a man or a woman. That is why it is important to use a latex barrier during oral, vaginal, and anal sex.
► Myth: I would know if a loved one or I had HIV.
► Fact: A person with HIV may not show any symptoms for up to 10 years, and with treatment, may never show symptoms at all. Since HIV affects each person differently, many people with HIV can look and feel healthy for years. The only sure way to know is to get tested.
► Myth: Current medications can cure AIDS. It’s no big deal if you get infected.
► Fact: According to the U.S. National Library of Health and National Institute of Health, Medications have become easier to take; however, they still have side effects, are very expensive, and have to be taken every day for the rest of your life. The medication does not prevent the transmission of HIV through unprotected sex, needle sharing, or blood transfusion, but only helps improve or prolong the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS.
► Myth: Getting tested for HIV is pointless.
► Fact: Knowing if you are HIV-positive will allow you to seek early treatment that can help you stay healthy. Regardless of your HIV status, you can learn how to prevent future infection from HIV or other STDs through counseling offered at many HIV testing centers. Almost every state (in the United States) has an AIDS hotline, and to find the number for your state's aids hotline, go to www.aidshotline.org and click on Other AIDS Hotlines (located under External Resources).
NOTE: How to Interpret the Test Results
A positive (reactive) result means:
- You are HIV-positive (carrying the virus that causes AIDS).
- You can infect others who come into contact with your blood, semen or vaginal fluid. You should take necessary precautions to avoid transmitting HIV to others.
A positive result does NOT mean:
- You have AIDS.
- You will necessarily get AIDS.
- You are immune to AIDS, even though you have antibodies.
A negative (non-reactive) result means:
- No HIV antibodies were found in your blood at this time.
A negative result does NOT mean:
- You are not infected with HIV (you may still be in the "window period").
- You are immune to HIV.
- You have a "resistance" to infection.
- You will never get HIV.
An indeterminate result (which is rare) means:
- The entire HIV test must be repeated with a new blood sample, usually several weeks after the first blood test.
- Indeterminate results usually occur if the test is performed just as the person begins to seroconvert, which means that the body has begun to develop antibodies to fight off HIV.
GET TESTED. IT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE, AND THE LIVES OF OTHERS.
If you would like more information about other myths that may have not been mentioned, and to get more information about the HIV/AIDS virus, visit:
Medline Plus from the National Institute of Health:
U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s HIV/AIDS Page:
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health:
UNAIDS’ Fast Facts about HIV/AIDS:
List of HIV/AIDS Organizations in the US (But check the site’s sidebar for lists of organizations all around the world)
Hana Tesfaye-Berhanu was born in Nekemte, and moved to the United States at the age of five in 1990. She is a 2007 graduate of Hamline University where she majored in English and minored in Education and Communication Studies. She has a passion of working with the youth and looks forward to becoming a teacher. She currently resides in the Twin Cities of Minnesota and is happily married to Ebassa Berhanu.