Although the terms HIV and AIDS have been around for over two decades, myths and misconceptions continue to spread. An especially common myth is that HIV can only infect gay men or only infect intravenous drug users. Another common set of misconceptions concerns the way HIV is transmitted. It was once thought and feared that HIV could be transmitted by a handshake with an HIV-infected person; a hug with an HIV-infected person; or touching a doorknob used by an HIV-infected person. Even mosquitoes were feared as potential HIV transmitters. In reality, AIDS can only be spread via exposure to blood, vaginal fluid, semen, or mother's milk that is infected with HIV. The saliva of a person infected with HIV does contain a small amount of HIV virus but is not an issue unless either person has open cuts or sores in his mouth. Finally, mosquitoes, while they can carry other viral infections, do not transmit the HIV virus

Empower yourself with the truth about HIV and AIDS so that you can practice prevention and not be afraid to be screened if you have put yourself at risk. HIV is an equal opportunity virus. It can affect newborn babies, women, seniors, teens and people of any race or nationality. Any behavior such as unsafe sex, multiple sexual partners or intravenous drug use can put you at risk for HIV infection and AIDS. In fact, women are increasingly becoming HIV-infected. This usually happens through sharing HIV-contaminated needles or sex with an HIV-infected man. The Center for Disease Control in the United States estimates that nearly a third of new HIV infections in the United States involved women. Worldwide, about as many women as men are HIV-infected. In areas like sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 60% of adults with HIV are women. In the meantime, research is ongoing into the causes of HIV, better ways to treat it and potential cures.

 Common Misconceptions

1. You Can Tell if Your Partner has HIV/AIDS

There's an average 10-year latency period in which someone who is infected with HIV may not have symptoms of AIDS or have opportunistic infections. During this period a person may have flu-like symptoms, swollen glands or other symptoms but not go into a doctor for them. It's also possible that these symptoms are mistaken for some other reason. It's important you find out whether your partner has HIV to the best of your knowledge and that you use protection every time, because you cannot tell by looking at someone.

2. You Can Only Get HIV/AIDS from Someone Who is Gay or Uses Injectable Drugs

HIV is an infection. It doesn't know the sexual orientation of the person it is infecting or whether he engages in illicit drug use. It's transmitted through blood, semen, breast milk and vaginal fluids. It doesn't discriminate, and anyone who puts himself at risk is at risk for HIV infection.

3. You Can't Get AIDS from Oral Sex

Although it's more common that HIV is transmitted through vaginal or rectal sex, HIV can be transmitted through oral sex. Abstaining from oral sex or using a physical barrier such as plastic wrap or a dental dam can prevent transmission of HIV through oral sex.

4. If you are HIV Positive, You Should Only Start Drug Therapy When You Are Sick

Early identification, monitoring and treatment of HIV infection is important. Depending on your viral load, your CD4 count and your readiness, your doctor may decide that it's time for you to start treatment. It's important that the decision to initiate treatment is made in conjunction with your doctor.

5. If I Get Diagnosed with HIV, it is a Death Sentence

There have been great advances in medications and treatment approaches to HIV and AIDS. There are many persons living an active life who are HIV-positive. Getting diagnosed is not a death sentence. By practicing healthy habits, working with your doctor, getting monitored when you need to and adhering to your treatment plan; you can live a long life.

6. Oral Sex Is Not As Safe As You Think

While most everyone knows how HIV is spread from person to person, most people underestimate the risk involved in some behaviors. Oral sex is often thought of as the "safer sex." Many adolescents believe that oral sex is a safe way to engage in sex, free from the worry of pregnancy and disease. The truth is that oral sex is not as safe as you think. Studies have concluded that infected bodily fluids such as semen and vaginal secretions have high concentrations of HIV, and can enter the blood stream through the mucous membranes of the mouth. One such study revealed that, in one group of newly infected HIV-positive young adults, many reported their only sexual contact was oral sex.

7. People Sometimes Hide the Truth / People Sometimes Don't Truly Know

Not everyone ignores the risks of HIV. Some ask the important questions of their partners--but what they do with the answers they receive is just as important. Think about it for a moment. How many people will admit they are HIV-infected if asked by the new love in their life? How many will admit to their sexual history when they are trying to win the affections of their new love interest? How many people really know their HIV status and the status of the people they have been with in the past?
Unfortunately, due in part to the prejudices surrounding HIV and AIDS, many people are not willing to disclose their status to potential sexual partners, for fear of discrimination and prejudice. Furthermore, many are reluctant to ask the questions of their partners prior to sex--or if they do, the tendency is to take the answers they get as fact. The only way anyone knows his HIV status is to get tested. A claim of "My past partner was negative” is only acceptable if it is backed by a negative test.

8. AIDS can be cured by the new drugs available or sex with a virgin

There is no cure for HIV infection. Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) helps manage symptoms and the amount of the virus in the body, but it is not a cure. People with HIV who are receiving HAART are living longer and longer. However, if HAART is stopped, the virus becomes stronger and eventually develops into AIDS.Since the 16th century, people have believed that sex with a virgin could get rid of sexually transmitted diseases. It simply isn't true. Sex with a virgin just exposes the virgin to HIV.

No sexual act cures HIV

9. HIV/AIDS can be spread by  casual contact with a person who has HIV, mosquitoes, being tattooed, breathing the air around an HIV-infected person, toilet seats or doorknobs, touching, hugging, holding hands or kissing an HIV-infected person, sharing silverware or plates with an HIV-infected person, sharing exercise equipment or playing sports with an HIV-infected person.

HIV is spread only when someone is exposed to blood, semen, vaginal fluid or mother's milk from someone who is infected with HIV. The virus doesn't live long in the open environment outside the body. There is virtually no evidence that HIV infection can be spread from tears or sweat. Even saliva has a very little viral content. (The risk goes up, however, if either person has blood in their mouth from cuts, open sores or gum disease.)

HIV infection can't be spread by day-to-day contact at work, school or social settings. Shaking someone's hand, hugging them, using the same toilet, drinking from the same glass, being nearby when someone with HIV coughs or sneezes – none of these activities spreads HIV infection. Even open-mouthed kissing is relatively low risk.

During a mosquito bite, the mosquito injects its own saliva into the person it is biting. It is not injecting blood from the last person the mosquito bit. Mosquito saliva can carry infections such as malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever or West Nile virus. That is how a person can get those infections from a mosquito bite. HIV cannot be transmitted in that way.

The chance of getting infected while being tattooed is low because HIV can't survive well in the open air. Tattooing if precautions aren't used can spread other diseases, including hepatitis. Using disposable needles, proper cleaning and sterilization of equipment eliminates much of the infection risk from tattooing.

While a woman with HIV who is pregnant can spread the virus to her child during childbirth or pregnancy, it doesn't happen as often as you might expect. A pregnant woman with HIV who receives no treatment at all, will give birth to an HIV-infected baby about 25% of the time. With today's antiretroviral therapy, however, the rate of transmission from mother to child has dropped to about 2%.

10. HIV/AIDS cannot be transmitted if you're on antiretroviral therapy, by oral sex, If you use birth control methods (like diaphragms, cervical caps, sponges, spermicides or the Pill),  If you already have another sexually transmitted disease, If you use your own needles when taking drugs and don't share them

Anti-retroviral helps keep the symptoms of HIV infection under control. It helps keep the amount of virus in the body as low as possible. It does not cure HIV or AIDS. Even when the virus can't be detected by the tests we have available today, it is still in the body. It can still be spread to others.

Oral sex is less risky than anal or vaginal risk – but not risk free. HIV can spread (to either partner) when there is contact between semen and mucous membranes in the mouth.

A single instance of oral sex probably has a very low level or risk. But the more oral sex a person has, the higher his or her risks. Risks go up if there are open sores on the genitals or mouth or mouth or if there is bleeding from gum disease. Any direct contact between semen or saliva or openings in the skin or surface of the mouth raises the risks of HIV infection.

Spermicides, diaphragms, caps, sponges and the Pill are all aimed at preventing conception. They do not protect against the spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV. Some birth control products that contain the spermicide nonoxynol-9 may actually increase the risk of HIV infection.

Not only is it possible to have more than one sexually transmitted disease (STD) at a time, having an STD can make you six to 10 times more like to pass or get HIV during sex. Your chances of getting HIV infection go up 10 to 300 times if a genital ulcer from syphilis or herpes is present.

Sharing contaminated hypodermic needles can spread HIV infection. But what many people don't realize is that sharing the tools used to prepare for an intravenous drug injection can also spread HIV infection.

11. Anti-retroviral drugs are toxic and more dangerous than the HIV itself

Anti-retroviral drugs are powerful. Taken in combinations of two or more drugs at a time, they can keep HIV infection in check for long periods. Antiretroviral drugs have reduced the death rate from HIV/AIDS by 80%. At the same time, they have made dramatic improvements in the quality of life for people who have HIV infection.  At the same time, anti-retroviral drugs have side effects of their own and can cause interactions for other drugs that a person may need to take for opportunistic infections. Educating yourself about the drugs you are taking, knowing what side effects to look for and working in partnership with a doctor whom you trust can keep the drawbacks of anti-retroviral therapy low.

12. HIV testing is unreliable, pointless or unnecessary because I would know if my lover or I had HIV

You can have – and spread – HIV for up to 10 years without having any symptoms of HIV or AIDS. HIV affects each individual differently. It is possible to look and feel healthy for years. The only sure way to know if you have HIV infection is to get tested. Today, testing for HIV is more reliable than tests for many other diseases. The accuracy in establishing whether a person does – or does not – have HIV infection is quite high and reliable. Usually when a test comes back HIV positive, the test is repeated or other test are done to check for viral genetic material in body fluids and cells to confirm the first test results. Knowing if you have HIV, gives you the power to seek treatment when it will be most effective. It also makes it possible for you to avoid spreading the infection to others.