Common myths

There are many myths and misconception about HIV. Check how much you know by reading our HIV myth-busters.

There is no HIV risk from pre-cum

A small amount of HIV can be found in a man's pre-cum (pre-ejaculation), though less than there is in semen. Because it is harder to transmit HIV through the membranes in the mouth and throat pre-cum carries no HIV risk during oral sex. 

However, as it is easier to transmit HIV through vaginal and anal membranes, there is more of a risk of HIV transmission from pre-cum in these types of sex. In fact a number of incidents of HIV transmission have been attributed to the delay in applying a condom during sex.

You can't have a baby if you or your partner is HIV positive

If someone living with HIV decides to have a baby, there are options available and steps they can take to ensure HIV is not passed on to their partner during conception (if the partner is HIV negative) or to their child. In the UK today there is less than a 1% chance of an HIV positive mother passing HIV on to her child through maternal transmissionif the right steps are taken. 

HIV can be passed on through sharing razors or toothbrushes

HIV cannot be passed on by sharing razors or toothbrushes, even if you are sharing with an HIV positive person. However, for general hygiene purposes it is advisable not to share these personal items as they do carry general bacteria.

If you get HIV youíll die soon

Although there isnít a cure for HIV, treatment is so advanced that it is no longer considered a death sentence. People diagnosed with HIV in the UK today can have a near-normal life expectancy and live healthy and active lives. Early diagnosis is particularly important as the longer HIV goes undiagnosed the more damage it can do to the body.

It takes months before you can have a test and get the results to find out if you have HIV

Testing for HIV has rapidly advanced in recent years but you often read incorrectly that you have to wait three, six or even 12 months to get a reliable HIV test result. In fact, you can now get an HIV test with an accurate result from four weeks after potential infection. Results can be returned between 20 minutes and two weeks, depending on the type of test you take. If you think you have exposed yourself to risk of HIV, do not wait or do nothing – it is important to seek advice from your local sexual health clinic as soon as possible.

You can get HIV from a mosquito or flea bite

HIV cannot be passed on by insect bites. Firstly the HIV virus can't survive in or on an insect. Secondly these insects only suck blood up, they do not inject blood back in.

Only gay men get HIV

It is true that gay men are particularly affected by HIV as a group (over 37,000 gay men in the UK have HIV) but HIV can still affect anyone and there are many heterosexuals living with HIV in the UK. The majority of new HIV diagnoses in 2010 were acquired heterosexually, while approximately a third of people with HIV in the UK are women. Anyone who has sex without a condom or shares needles when injecting drugs is at risk of HIV.

My partner would automatically tell me if they had HIV

It is not always easy to tell someone you have HIV. In addition, over a quarter of people with HIV are undiagnosed. It is dangerous to assume that your partner would automatically tell you if they had HIV Ė either because they may struggle to confide in you or because they donít know they have it! Your sexual health is your responsibility — always using a condom is the safest way to protect against HIV transmission.

Lots of people come to the UK to get free HIV treatment

Despite sometimes being talked about in the media, there is no evidence for this myth – commonly referred to as HIV-related ‘health-tourism’. In fact, the evidence shows that most migrants with HIV who come to the UK do not know they have it before they arrive (and are not diagnosed for a number of years) so are definitely not coming over here seeking treatment.

You can get HIV from someone who spits at you or bites you

There is no risk of HIV infection from spitting and the risk of infection from biting is negligible. With over 60 million people infected with HIV worldwide over 25 years, there have only ever been four possible reports of HIV being transmitted through biting, all of which occurred in extremely specific and unusual circumstances.

You can get HIV if you stand on or pick up a used needle

There has never been a case of HIV infection from picking up or standing on a used needle in the UK. There have only ever been five cases of HIV infection from being pricked with a needle, and these all occurred in healthcare settings and there have been none since 1999. HIV is a very fragile virus that does not survive for long when exposed to the environment.

It's very easy for me to catch HIV from someone who is infected

You can only become infected with HIV if you have sex without a condom or share a needle or injecting equipment with someone living with HIV. HIV is not spread through day-to-day contact, touching, kissing or sharing utensils. In addition, being on HIV treatment makes people with HIV far less likely to pass it on.

My HIV test results wonít be kept confidential

Most HIV testing in the UK is done in a sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic. These clinics are legally bound not to reveal personal details and test results. GPs and private doctors also perform HIV tests, which means your HIV test and results would appear on your medical records Ė but these would still not be discussed with anyone else unless relevant to your treatment. If you are concerned about who else your HIV test results will be shared with, speak to your doctor about this.

Condoms aren't effective in preventing HIV transmission

The most common way to be infected with HIV is through unprotected sex without a condom. When used properly and appropriately, condoms are extremely effective at protecting against HIV transmission. It is important to ensure you always use a condom when having sex, particularly if you have more than one partner or if you haven't had a sexual health check up recently. If you are using a lubricant as well as a condom (which is particularly recommended for anal sex) ensure it is water-based. Find out more about how to use a condom here.

I have had an HIV test because my blood was taken and tested in hospital/my GP surgery

If you have a blood test at a hospital or in a GP surgery they will not automatically test for HIV.  You will be explicitly told if HIV is one of the conditions they plan to test for when they look at your blood.  If HIV testing is not mentioned, you should not assume you have had an HIV test and it could still possibly be the case that you have undiagnosed HIV.

You can get HIV by having a fish pedicure

It was recently reported that Garra Rufa fish pedicures posed a risk of HIV transmission. This is inaccurate and there is no risk of HIV transmission from visiting a fish pedicure spa.


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