What HIV is not

HIV is not the same as AIDS, it does however, cause AIDS.

HIV cannot be spread through casual contact such as:

  • coughing or sneezing
  • hugging or touching
  • shaking hands
  • sharing food, plates, cups, cutlery
  • using telephones
  • swimming pools
  • insect bites


There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding HIV and AIDS, originating from a variety of sources within communities, spread by traditional healers, or misunderstood ‘half truths’ based on gossip etc. The examples below illustrate some of these.

Myth: AIDS is not caused by HIV
Reality: This is one of the major myths surrounding HIV and AIDS. Researchers first claimed that this was true as long ago as 1983, when HIV was discovered and officially named. A number of tests were done on both HIV positive people and people with AIDS. The results showed that the overwhelming majority of people who initially tested positive for HIV but appeared to be healthy went on to develop AIDS.

Myth: HIV can be cured by having sex with a virgin.
Reality: There is absolutely no evidence to support this claim. It is believed that this myth began from advice given by traditional healers in sub-Saharan Africa.

Myth: HIV can be transmitted by being around people who are HIV positive.
Reality: You cannot become infected through touch, tears, sweat or saliva. It cannot be caught by breathing the same air, touching a toilet seat or door handle after a HIV positive person, drinking from the same water fountain, kissing, hugging or shaking hands with a HIV positive person.

Myth: I do not need to worry about becoming HIV positive because there are drugs out there that will make me better.
Reality: Although there are antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) available for people who are HIV positive, they are not a cure. The drugs prolong and improve the lives of people living with HIV. They are expensive and can also cause serious side effects. But there is no cure. There are also signs of drug-resistant strains of HIV developing.

Myth: HIV can be transmitted by mosquitoes.
Reality: There have been several studies to show that this is not true. Although mosquitoes are bloodsucking insects, the HIV virus does not live long enough inside them for a person to become infected through a bite. Also, when mosquitoes bite a person, they do not inject their own blood, or the blood of anyone else they have bitten.

Myth: My life is over if I become infected with HIV.
Reality: In the initial stages of the pandemic, the death rates were very high. However, due to the development of ARVs, people living with HIV and even people with AIDS can live much longer, healthier, normal lives.

Myth: If a person is straight and not an Intravenous Drug User (IDU) then they won’t become infected.
Reality: HIV is transmitted predominantly through heterosexual intercourse – this is especially true in sub-Saharan Africa.

Myth: When a person is receiving treatment for HIV, they cannot spread the virus.
Reality: Although ARVs help to reduce the viral load in a HIV positive person’s body, the virus itself still remains and can still be transmitted.

Myth: If you are in a relationship and both you and your partner are positive, it is not necessary to use protection.
Reality: Having unprotected sex while you and your partner are positive can expose you both to different strains of (possibly drug resistant) HIV and possibly increase your viral load.

Myth: You can tell a person is HIV positive from looking at them.
Reality: Some people do not show symptoms for years. The only way to know if someone is HIV positive or not is by getting tested for the virus.

Myth: You cannot become infected by oral sex.
Reality: Oral sex is less risky in terms of transmission, but it is still possible.