The UW Health HIV/AIDS Comprehensive Care Program at UW Hospital and Clinics in Madison, Wisconsin has been providing care for people with HIV/AIDS since 1985. Part of our work is dispelling myths about the disease and the patients we treat.
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HIV is about what we do, not who we are.
Think HIV is a gay male thing? Think again. More than one-half of new infections are in women. HIV doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, or if you are gay or straight, married or single or what color you are, or how much money you make. The only way to prevent HIV infection is to protect yourself from HIV-infected body fluids.
 
Only a few body fluids can transmit HIV to another person.
Blood, semen, breast milk, vaginal secretions – that’s it. No saliva, no tears, no mosquitoes. HIV wants a direct route to blood. Cuts, sores, abrasions, skin tears in the vagina or anus – these allow HIV in semen or blood to easily enter the body. So does injecting into veins. Scared to use the same drinking glass or toilet seat as someone who has HIV? Get over it.
 
HIV is not AIDS.
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. AIDS is a disease. A diagnosis of AIDS means the body’s ability to fight infection has been greatly damaged by HIV.
 
It’s impossible to know whether someone has HIV or AIDS by looking at them.
Lots of people with HIV infection don’t show any signs or symptoms. In the U.S., one-third of people with HIV don’t even know they have it. Think you could tell if someone has HIV or AIDS? Think again. The only way to be sure of HIV infection is to take a test.
 
There are effective treatments for HIV infection and AIDS.
There are medications that can control HIV. Controlling HIV slows down the damage it causes. Without medications, HIV almost always overwhelms the immune system eventually. Infections then set in and the body gives out.
 
There is no cure for HIV infection or AIDS.
Bad news: A vaccine to prevent HIV infection does not yet exist and there is no way yet to get rid of the virus once you have it. Good news: It is possible to have HIV and never develop AIDS. How? Getting tested early, seeing an HIV specialist, and getting treatment.
 
The only way to stop HIV is to stop new HIV infections.
How? Keep the four fluids (blood, semen, breast milk, vaginal secretions) from entering your body. One word: condoms. Two more: clean needles. If you have HIV, reduce the amount of HIV that can be transmitted to someone else by using medications that control HIV.
 
Women with HIV infection can have healthy babies.
Medications (often free) used during pregnancy or even at delivery can prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Getting tested early in pregnancy provides the best chance of preventing HIV infection for the baby.
 
HIV status is legally protected.
In Wisconsin, most people don’t have a right to know someone’s HIV status. If you go to an anonymous testing site you do not have to give any personal information, like a name or address. It is common for states to have laws protecting HIV information.
 
The best way to protect yourself is to know your HIV status.
If you have ever been in a situation – even one – where HIV transmission was possible, get an HIV test to protect yourself and others. Remember, any situation where HIV transmission was possible, lots of other things were, too. For starters: chlamydia, hepatitis, herpes, syphilis and gonorrhea.
 
AIDS is a health condition, not a crime.
Every 13 minutes someone is infected with HIV; every 4 minutes someone dies of AIDS. In the most devastating global health epidemic of our time, there’s no time for judgment. Who are the “innocent victims” of HIV and AIDS? Who “deserves what they get?” Who cares? This is a fight that needs you. Check your judgments. Challenge your fears. Know the facts.

 

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