Kissing and toothbrushes

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HIV myths “endure from the 1980s”

Image caption
HIV cannot be passed on through kissing

Myths about HIV that were common in the the 1980s still endure, according to the Terrence Higgins Trust.

A survey of 2,000 people to mark Thursday”s World Aids Day explored the beliefs that still persist, despite the significant medical advances since that time.

Here are five common mistaken beliefs about how HIV is contracted and treated:

Myth – HIV can be transmitted by kissing

Truth – The YouGov survey found 20% still believed this – but HIV cannot be passed on through skin-to-skin contact or saliva.

Myth – Sharing a toothbrush with someone who has HIV can pass on the virus

Truth – Just under a third believed this – but it is not possible because HIV does not survive outside the body.

Myth – People with HIV will pass it on to their children

Truth – Effective treatment works by reducing the amount of the virus in the blood to undetectable levels. It means people with HIV who are being treated can have babies without passing it on – 29% of the people surveyed were not aware of this.

Myth – If someone has HIV they will die young

Truth – The advances in treatment also mean that people with HIV can and do live into old age, which only half of those in the survey knew.

Myth – It is not possible to have sex with someone who has HIV without contracting it

Truth – This year, a landmark study proved that people on effective HIV treatment cannot transmit the virus – even through sex. Only 39% in the survey were aware that was the case. The much bigger risk of transmission is from people who have no idea they are living with the virus so may be unwittingly passing it on.


Ian Green, chief executive of THT, said: “We”ve come a long way since the Aids crisis first emerged, when the nation was gripped by panic and fear.

“Thankfully, we now know far more about how HIV is and is not transmitted and medical advances now mean HIV doesn”t have to stand in the way of living a long and healthy life.

“But it”s not over. While science has moved on, we can see today that inaccurate myths from the 1980s are still deeply entrenched in society, both in terms of how HIV is transmitted and what it”s like to live with HIV.”

He added: “Misunderstanding of the virus can fuel stigma and cause immense distress for people coming to terms with an HIV diagnosis. Much more needs to be done to bring the British public up to date with what HIV means in 2016.”