Common Myths About HIV and AIDS


Hi, my name is [PRESENTER NAME]. I’m [PRESENTER ROLE]. Welcome to “Common Myths About HIV and AIDS.” This video will correct some common myths and incorrect information about HIV and AIDS. For each myth, I will first state the myth and then explain the reality.


Myth: The virus called HIV has never been found.


Reality: HIV could be found in nearly all AIDS patients as far back as 1989.[i] It can be found in many tissues and fluids including blood, semen,[ii] vaginal fluid,[iii] and brain tissue.[iv] A medical test can count how many particles of HIV are present in the blood.[v] HIV can be grown in laboratories. Pictures of HIV have been taken with powerful microscopes. Medical tests can even show the type of HIV an individual patient has, and doctors can use that information to choose AIDS medications.


Myth: HIV doesn’t cause AIDS.


Reality: Scientists worldwide agree that the virus we call HIV causes the disease we call AIDS. Scientists have shown how HIV infects the body, weakens its ability to fight disease, and causes AIDS. HIV can be measured in the blood of an infected individual. Medications that block HIV improve the health of people with AIDS; if HIV didn’t cause AIDS, they wouldn’t have that effect.[vi] UNAIDS, the World Health Organization, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Pasteur Institute in France all agree that HIV is the cause of AIDS.


Myth: HIV tests are often wrong.


Reality: HIV tests used today are very accurate. When a person takes an HIV test, if they get a test result of “HIV positive,” a second, different test can be used to confirm that they are actually HIV positive. If a person gets an "HIV positive" result on both the first and second test, scientific studies have shown that there's only a 1 in 250,000 chance that their test result was wrong.[vii]That means that out of every 250,000 people who got “HIV positive” results on both the first and second test, only one person’s test result would be incorrect.


Myth: The United States Food and Drug Administration hasn't approved HIV tests.


Reality: This myth is easy to debunk. Go to the Internet URL displayed on your screen. Or, go to and type in the English phrase displayed on your screen. This will take you to the page on the FDA web site listing tests that have been approved by the FDA for diagnosing HIV infection.


Myth: AIDS is caused by illegal drug use, not by HIV.


Reality: HIV, not illegal drug use, causes AIDS. Doctors first recognized AIDS in the early 1980s. At that time, some researchers thought that AIDS might be caused by the use of illegal drugs that are inhaled or injected. Studies have since shown that only people who are HIV positive develop AIDS, and only people who are HIV positive die of AIDS. People who are HIV negative do not develop AIDS and do not die of AIDS, even if they inhale or inject drugs.[viii][ix] [x]


It is true that users of injection drugs are at increased risk of AIDS. This is because sharing needles leads to the spread of HIV, not because of injection drug use alone.


Myth: AIDS is caused by AIDS medications, not HIV.


Reality: AIDS is caused by HIV, not by AIDS medications. There have been many cases where people who were never treated with AIDS medications developed AIDS. AIDS medications only became available in the late 1980s. Before then, no one had been treated with AIDS medications, but tens of thousands of people in the U.S. alone became infected with HIV and developed AIDS. People infected with HIV through blood transfusions early in the epidemic had never been treated with AIDS medications, yet they became infected with HIV and then developed AIDS. Millions of people in the developing world became infected with HIV and developed AIDS long before AIDS medications were available there. Infants who are infected by HIV during childbirth or through nursing on breast milk develop AIDS even if they have never been treated with AIDS medications. If people are infected with HIV, studies have shown that they will generally develop AIDS if they do not get treated and enough time passes. On the other hand, studies have shown that treating HIV positive people with AIDS medications reduces their risk of developing AIDS and of dying.


Myth: The AIDS medication called "AZT" does more harm than good.


Reality: AZT saves lives. AZT was the first AIDS medication. When it was the only AIDS medication available, it had to be used in high doses, so there were more side effects. Because it was used alone, HIV quickly found a way to overcome AZT, so AZT was less effective. Today, patients are given multiple AIDS medications together. Working together, the medications are better than a single medication used alone. Some can also be used in lower doses, reducing side effects. But even before current AIDS treatment was available, studies showed that AZT used alone saved lives.


Myth: You are better off without AIDS medications than with them.

Myth: AIDS medications are not effective for treating AIDS.


Reality: Studies published in scientific journals have proven that HIV patients treated with AIDS medications develop AIDS more slowly and live longer than patients who are not treated with AIDS medications.

Like other medications, AIDS medications can have unpleasant side effects. Sometimes, these side effects can even be fatal. However, studies have shown that when patients’ HIV disease is advanced enough to require treatment with AIDS medications, on average, they will develop AIDS more slowly and live longer if they are treated with AIDS medications than if they are not treated with AIDS medications.


Imagine that you have a large group of several thousand HIV positive people, and that if the group is given no treatment, 1000 of those people will develop AIDS or die during a certain period of time. Scientific studies have shown that if you treat the whole group with one AIDS medication, only 700 people will develop AIDS or die. If you treat the whole group with two AIDS medications, only 420 of them will develop AIDS or die. If you treat the whole group with three AIDS medications (as is done in standard medical practice today), only 252 of them will develop AIDS or die.[xi] So by following their doctor's instructions, an HIV positive person can reduce their risk of developing AIDS or dying by almost three quarters.


Myth: Because of AIDS medications, we no longer need to be concerned about HIV/AIDS.


Reality: AIDS medications have helped in the fight against HIV, but they are not a cure. If your doctor prescribes AIDS medications, you will have to take every dose correctly to decrease the risk that the medication will stop working against HIV. AIDS medications can have unpleasant side effects. If the HIV in a patient’s body is able to overcome all of the AIDS medications that patient is able to take, the person may still develop AIDS and die. There are over two million new HIV infections each year. Globally, the cost of HIV treatment is continuing to rise. For all these reasons, HIV/AIDS remains a serious problem, and preventing the spread of HIV is still extremely important.


Myth: If you have HIV already and have sex, you no longer need to practice safer sex.


Reality: HIV positive people who have sex need to practice safer sex to reduce the risk that their HIV negative partner will become infected. When both partners are HIV positive, each partner still needs to practice safer sex to protect themself from getting the other partner’s type of HIV, which may be more aggressive and able to overcome AIDS medications. If a person is HIV positive and has sex, it is important for them to tell every partner before having sex and to practice safer sex every time they have sex.


Myth: You can’t contract HIV through oral sex.


Reality: Although the risk of spreading HIV through oral sex is lower than for some other sexual practices, the risk is not zero. There are known cases of people who only had oral sex and then were infected with HIV as a result. Therefore, people who have oral sex should decrease their risk by using condoms for men and latex squares called dental dams for women.


Myth: You can’t be infected with HIV by having sex a single time.


Reality: There are known cases of individuals who were infected with HIV from having sex a single time because their partner was HIV positive and they did not use a condom. Anyone who is HIV positive can infect their sexual partners. So if you have sex, remember that you can become infected with HIV from having sex a single time, and it is vital to use condoms.


Myth: If you are HIV positive but the amount of HIV in your blood is extremely low or “undetectable” (meaning it is not found by a blood test), you cannot spread HIV.


Reality: Anyone who is HIV positive can spread it to their sexual partner. It’s true that if the amount of HIV in your blood is lower, your risk of spreading HIV is lower, but the risk is not zero. If you are HIV positive and have sex, no matter how healthy you feel and how little HIV there is in your blood, you must tell your partner so they know and you can work together to decrease the risk of spreading HIV.


Myth: AIDS can be spread by kissing, hugging, or shaking hands.


Reality: You cannot become infected with HIV from saliva, sweat, or tears or by living, working, eating, or shaking hands with a person who has HIV. You can’t become infected with HIV by giving a person a light kiss on the lips or by hugging them. There are three ways that HIV commonly spreads today: having sex; sharing needles during injection drug use; and from mother to child during birth or breastfeeding.


Myth: If you have HIV, you can cure it by having sex with a virgin.


Reality: There is currently no cure for HIV or AIDS. There is a myth in many parts of Africa that you can cure HIV/AIDS by having sex with a virgin. Because of this myth, some HIV positive men have raped young women or girls in the hope of curing their HIV.


Myth: Every person with HIV will eventually develop AIDS.


Reality: There are some people who are HIV positive who have not developed AIDS, even though they have been HIV positive for over 20 years. It seems that their body fights HIV without medications. Others may have gotten a weaker type of HIV. Still others began taking medications before their body’s ability to fight disease became weakened and have never developed AIDS. Only time will tell how long a person can be HIV positive without developing AIDS.


Myth: Humans created HIV.


Reality: HIV jumped to humans from similar viruses called SIV in chimpanzees and monkeys. Scientists have studied the different types of HIV and shown how HIV developed over time. There are two main types of HIV: HIV-1 and HIV-2. Scientific studies have shown that HIV-1 jumped to humans from a similar virus called SIV in chimpanzees, and HIV-2 jumped to humans from a similar virus called SIV in monkeys.[xii] This probably happened when people were exposed to chimpanzee and monkey blood while hunting, killing, and butchering them for food. Another study showed that HIV-1 developed around 1931.[xiii]


These are just some common myths about HIV and AIDS. There are many more. Myths like these are harmful because they confuse people about HIV, its role as the cause of AIDS, and how HIV/AIDS can be treated. Make sure you get accurate information about HIV and AIDS. Don’t rely on rumors, myths, statements without proof, or web pages and videos on the Internet. If you have questions, talk to a medical doctor. HIV causes AIDS. HIV tests can accurately determine whether or not you are infected with HIV. AIDS medications are effective for treating HIV/AIDS and save lives. Knowing the facts about how HIV is transmitted can mean the difference between life and death. No matter who you are, you are a valuable individual, and your life matters as do the lives of those in your community. Take care of yourself and those around you. Make healthy choices that reduce your risk of contracting HIV.


For, this is [PRESENTER NAME].


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Information for translators:

Š      “found:” This refers to the process of finding a specific virus within a patient or a tissue culture. Since the term “isolated” is too technical, we are using the simpler word “found.”

Š      "powerful microscopes:" We’re actually talking about “electron microscopes” here, but that’s too technical, so we’re just saying “powerful microscopes” instead.

Š      " latex squares called dental dams for women:" Even in English, few people know what the term "dental dam" means. In other languages, this term may have no standard translation and may only introduce confusion. If you think that including a translation of the phrase "called dental dams" will do more harm than good in your language, leave the phrase out in your translation.


This script was reviewed for accuracy and approved by Becky Kuhn, M.D. on June 30, 2011.


[i] National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “The Relationship Between the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome,” September 1995,

[ii] Zagury et al. "HTLV-III in cells cultured from semen of two patients with AIDS." Science 1984;226(4673):449-51. Ho et al. "HTLV-III in the semen and blood of a healthy homosexual man." Science 1984;226(4673):451-3.

[iii] Wofsy et al. "Isolation of AIDS-associated retrovirus from genital secretions of women with antibodies to the virus." Lancet 1986;8,1(8480):527-9.

[iv] NIAID, “Relationship,” 1995.

[v] Mellors, J.W., Kingsley, L.A., Rinaldo, C.R., et al. “Quantitation of HIV-1 RNA in plasma predicts outcome after seroconversion.” Annals of Internal Medicine 122: 573-595. (1995)

[vi] National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, "The Evidence that HIV Causes AIDS." Accessed 11 July 2009.

[vii] Roger Chou et al, “Screening for HIV: A Review of the Evidence for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force,” Annals of Internal Medicine, 5 July 05, vol 143, #1, p 55-73.

[viii] Schechter et al, Lancet, 1993 Mar 13;341(8846):658-9.

[ix] NIAID, “Relationship,” 1995.

[x] NIAID, “Relationship,” 1995. Discussion of: Schechter MT, Craib KJ, Gelman KA, Montaner JS, et al. “HIV-1 and the aetiology of AIDS.” Lancet 1993;341:658-9.

[xi] Jordan et al. (2002) Systematic review and meta-analysis of evidence for increasing numbers of drugs in antiretroviral combination therapy. BMJ 2002;324:757. Cited by editors in " Benefits of antiretroviral drugs: Evidence that the benefits of HAART outweigh its risks" at

[xii] Reeves JD, Doms RW. "Human immunodeficiency virus type 2." J Gen Virol. 2002 Jun;83(Pt 6):1253-65.

[xiii] David Hillis, "AIDS: Origins of HIV," Science 9 June 2000, v288, #5472, p1757-1759.