5 Myths About HIV

World AIDS Day is December 1st. To commemorate this day, I have put together a list of myths to help increase awareness.

Myth #1: HIV and AIDS are the same. This is not true. HIV is the virus that precedes AIDs. When a person is diagnosed with HIV, if they are diagnosed in a timely manner and receive effective treatment, they can slow the development of AIDS. AIDS causes ones immune system to be so severely weakened, that they become susceptible to infections and cancers that can cause them to die. It’s similar to the difference between the common cold and a severe pneumonia. Living with HIV requires prompt diagnosis and treatment to prevent AIDS.

Myth #2: You would know if you or your partner had HIV. False as well. A person can have HIV for years and years without showing any signs of symptoms of illness. Even without symptoms, the amount of virus in a person’s body can make spreading the virus possible. I hear all of the time from my patients, “I feel fine and my partner is clean”, as though testing is now unnecessary because of the lack of symptoms. This thinking is a major reason why the spread of HIV is still taking place.

Myth #3: Only promiscuous or same-sex sexual encounters lead to the spread of HIV. Another untruth. While most male acquisition of the virus occurs within same-sex encounters, 16% of men and 78% of women acquire the virus through heterosexual sex. Also, it doesn’t take multiple sexual encounters to acquire HIV, or any STI for that matter. Oral sex is also a way to spread HIV. Barrier devices containing latex are the only safer sexual practice that can reduce or prevent STI transmission. The only 100% safe sexual practice is abstinence.

Myth #4: If I have HIV and get pregnant, my child will have HIV. One amazing result in HIV research and treatment is that mother-to-child transmission has dropped exponentially in the last 10 years. Transmission rates during pregnancy, labor, delivery and breastfeeding without any treatment range from 15%-45%. With the proper treatment, this transmission rate falls below 5%. This is why testing for HIV, especially in pregnancy, is so important.

Myth #5: People only get HIV/AIDS in Third World Countries. While many underdeveloped countries have significantly higher HIV rates, there are still about 50,000 new cases of HIV diagnosed every year in the US. The most affected population are men who have sex with men (MSM), with African American men being most seriously affected. Following closely behind MSM, are heterosexual African American Women. With our access to health information, barrier contraception and health care, we in the US should be able to decrease the spread of this disease. We have no excuse.

In honor of World AIDS Day, educate someone, donate to the cause, and get tested. We can stop this disease together.

Wendy MD

Dr. Wendy Goodall McDonald is a board certified obstetrician and gynecologist practicing in the city of Chicago. She is a graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana and Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and is always accepting new patients. Learn more at