Myths about HIV & AIDS

Where do myths about HIV come from?

When AIDS first became identified by doctors and scientist in the 1980s, it was a very mysterious disease, causing the death of many people, and which doctors could not understand or explain at the time. Since then there are still many unanswered questions about the origins of AIDS and how it can be cured. Myths developed around the virus in part as people reacted with fear. Today, people living with HIV and AIDS must continue to challenge the prejudices and myths that are intimately associated with the virus and the people that are infected with it.

There are several factors that affect the perception of HIV and AIDS. These include political, psychological, sociological, and anthropological constructions of the illness. It is crucial to understand that the construction of the illness is distinct from the pathological definitions of the disease i. The cultural construction of an illness is often quite distinct from its medical realities. Therefore there are various methods that medical anthropologists use to gain insight into how individuals construct the meaning of illness. Myths contribute to the construction of HIV and AIDS as they are often associated with sex, death, taboo, and youth ii. Traditionally, myths grow within societies in order to provide explanations to the ‘big’ questions about the world, as we seek explanations to things that are unknown, such as where do we come from, and other fundamental questions about our existence. In the beginning myths were created about HIV and AIDS because so little was known about the disease. In some places, people believed, and still continue to have, unfounded theories about the virus. Therefore working to understand the origins of myths and debunking them are vital to the fight against HIV and AIDS both nationally and internationally.

What are some of the myths associated with HIV and AIDS?

  • Myth: that you can get HIV from using an infected person’s utensils
  • Truth: one cannot under any circumstances get HIV or AIDS from using the utensils, cloths, sheets or toothbrush of an HIV-positive person. In order to contract the virus there must be an exchange of sexual fluids (i.e. semen or vaginal fluid) or blood that transmits the virus from one body to another.

  • Myth: that HIV and AIDS are diseases that only affect homosexuals and sex workers.
  • Truth: anyone can get infected with HIV regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, occupation or class.

  • Myth: that you can get HIV from kissing, holding hands, sharing the same toilet or room with someone that is HIV positive.
  • Truth: the saliva in your mouth does not contain enough of the HIV virus to transfer it to another person purely from kissing iii.

  • Myth: that you can get AIDS from a mosquito bite.
  • Truth: HIV and AIDS cannot be transmitted through the bites of insects.

  • Myth: In some parts of Africa it is believed that sex with a virgin can cure AIDS.
  • Truth: There is no cure for HIV and AIDS.

  • Myth: That you cannot get HIV from oral sex.
  • Truth: HIV can be contracted through oral sex, though the possibility is relatively smaller than contracting the virus through sexual intercourse.

  • Myth: Women who are HIV positive cannot have children without infecting them.
  • Truth: Without treatment HIV-positive mothers pass HIV to their newborns about 25 percent of the time. However, with modern treatment, this rate has dropped drastically to about 2 percent iv.

References: 
i http://www.brad.ac.uk/staff/ijhodgson/summaries/Publications/culture_myth_hiv.htm
ii http://www.brad.ac.uk/staff/ijhodgson/summaries/Publications/culture_myth_hiv.htm
iii http://library.thinkquest.org/C0125870/hiv2.htm
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