HIV/AIDS: Your ultimate guide

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, an infection that can lead to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) and death if not treated with the appropriate medication.

The 6 most damaging HIV/AIDS misconceptions

HIV/AIDS is a pandemic in South Africa. We look at some of its most common and damaging myths.

  • With 6.3 million people living with HIV in 2013, South Africa has the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the world, according to UNAIDS.

    A number of factors such as poverty and poor access to healthcare play a role in these shocking statistics -- but so does misinformation, which both furthers the disease and the stigma that surrounds it, says Zakhele Mavundla of the AIDS Foundation of South Africa.

    Here are the six most common misconceptions, or myths…

  • MYTH 1: ‘I can get HIV by being around people who are infected.’

    Research has shown that it isn’t possible to transmit HIV through touching (this includes hugging and kissing), breathing the same air or even sharing eating utensils with someone who is HIV-positive.

    HIV can, however, be transmitted through infected blood, semen, vaginal fluid or mother’s milk.

  • MYTH 2: ‘I’m HIV-positive. My life is over.’

    While living with the disease will certainly have an impact on your lifestyle, advances in science and antiretroviral medication mean that HIV-positive people – and even those with AIDS – are able to live much longer, normal, productive lives.

  • MYTH 3: ‘HIV is a homosexual disease.’

    t’s true that men who have sex with men are the most at risk when it comes to infection, but HIV transmission through heterosexual intercourse is the most common. “Up to 80% of HIV transmission occurs through heterosexual sex,” confirms Mavundla. “HIV is contracted much more easily through anal sex. So both men who have sex with men and heterosexuals who have regular anal sex without condoms are particularly vulnerable.”

    Women are actually the most at risk: a woman has a one in 200 chance of contracting HIV from a single heterosexual encounter, while a man has a one in 700 chance.

  • MYTH 4: Mosquitoes spread HIV.

    A common concern is that biting or blood-sucking insects such as mosquitoes can spread the disease. Several studies have been done on the topic, none of which have produced any evidence to support this unfounded fear.

  • MYTH 5: Male circumcision prevents HIV

    Mavundla highlights this as one of the most common misconceptions in South Africa. He explains that while circumcision has been shown to reduce the likelihood of transmission of HIV by up to 60%, many have come to believe that they cannot get infected if they’re circumcised. This is untrue.

  • MYTH 6: If both parties are HIV-positive, safe sex is not necessary.

    Even people who already have HIV are able to catch other strains of the virus if they have unprotected sex. Drug-resistant HIV is of particular concern. Catching a second strain of the virus can mean the immune system has to defend against two different forms of the virus at the same time, which significantly weakens the host.