You probably have enough on your mind without dwelling on ideas about HIV that aren’t the slightest bit true.
Myth HIV infection is a death sentence. Reality No, it’s not—the meds really work.
“I guess we’re sorta fortunate nowadays. Your thoughts don’t turn to ‘Oh my god, I’m gonna die.’ It’s more ‘Oh my god, I’m gonna live with this.’ And you start to think of how it’s gonna change your life.” —Joshua Sacks, Washington, DC, Diagnosed: 2004
When did the AIDS death rate start dropping? 1996. When did combo therapy become widely available? 1996. You get the picture.
In 1995, there were over 500,000 people with HIV in the US and 62% of them died of AIDS. Now there are over 1 million HIVers in the US, and the AIDS death rate has dropped to about 18,000 a year. Some countries do better (Britain), some a lot worse (South Africa).
Myth HIV infection is no big deal any more—I can just take some pills. Reality It's still a serious medical condition, requiring life-long treatment.
HIV infection isn’t anything like getting a cold; it stays with you as part of your life and increases all sorts of risks. You need to look after yourself to make it to your golden years.
Myth The side effects of the meds are worse than the disease. Reality The side effects are mostly manageable.
There’s always a risk of side effects when you take medicines strong enough to defeat a serious virus. There are also many additional drugs out there that do a good job of treating these side effects and improving your quality of life. Alternative therapies can help with that too—in combination with a good diet, excercise and the rest. But they can't stop the virus.
Myth I’ve heard that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS. Reality There's no other valid explanation.
If you take a cross-section of people with HIV worldwide, nothing else connects an African baby, a Thai housewife who has only had sex with her husband, an Indian transsexual, a San Francisco gay man and a Russian IV-drug user but having the virus.
Fatigue, drug and alcohol binges, stress, depression and STDs can all depress the immune system. But nothing but HIV (besides perhaps cancer chemotherapy) can reduce your immune system to 1 percent of its proper strength.
Myth HIV was created in a laboratory to kill off blacks, gays and junkies. Reality Creating a complicated retrovirus like HIV was way beyond scientists’ abilities in 1959, which is the date of the first confirmed case of AIDS, in Kinshasa, Africa (and is probably beyond their abilities now, too).
Not an entirely irrational fear, considering not only social prejudices but also the history of experiments on live, uninformed human subjects. Between 1932 and 1972, for instance, a Tuskegee, Alabama study left 400 black men untreated for syphilis, long after they could have been cured with penicillin—just to see what would happen.
Theories abound on where HIV came from, but one thing and one thing only turned HIV from a disease of the West African bush into a global epidemic. No, it wasn't changes in sexual behavior; it was international travel. AIDS spread along trucking highways and airline routes.
Myth I can’t ever have children. Reality Yes you can.
“I went blank. I started thinking I can’t have kids. Who’s going to want me now? I thought that I wasn’t able to have kids, and that I wasn’t going to get married…I’ve learned since then that there’s only a one percent chance that you would transmit it to your baby.”—Jessica Whitney, Hagerstown, MD, Diagnosed: 2003
HIV positive women who control their virus with meds during pregnancy, have a Caesarean section and don't breast feed, reduce the risk of passing on HIV to their baby to a mere 1 percent.
A positive man hoping to conceive with a negative woman can avail himself (for a substantial fee) of a technique called “sperm washing” that separates HIV from sperm. Ask your doc. www.duncanholly.com
Myth I have to tell everyone. Reality Disclosing your HIV status should always be your choice.
In some states, if you don't tell a sex partner, you can be prosecuted. But otherwise, disclosure should be at your own speed and to whomever you choose—keeping in mind, however, that disclosure can be a relief, and it can even be empowering. Click on Who Do I Tell? in the menu at your right. And check out POZ Mentor if you have questions or want to discuss the difficulties of disclosure with an experienced HIVer who’s been there.