When cases of HIV/AIDS were first identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1981, the disease didn't even have an official name yet. Often referred to as Kaposi's sarcoma or gay-related immune deficiency (GRID), it would take another year for the virus to earn an official name and for scientists to discover that the disease wasn't limited to the gay population.

During the mid-1980s, the general public became aware of HIV/AIDS, but in many ways, the virus was shrouded in mystery. Even today, the origins of the disease remain unknown, and myths about its symptoms, transmission, and prognosis still abound. Here, we debunk the top eight misconceptions about HIV/AIDS.

Myth #1: AIDS is primarily a sub-Saharan African problem.

Fact: Of the 42 million people around the globe living with HIV/AIDS, 70 percent are in sub-Saharan Africa, but experts are quick to point out that AIDS is not solely an African pandemic. According to the Medical Student Association, the disease continues to spread in the rest of the world, and Eastern Europe and Central Asia currently have the fastest rates of growth. In the United States, it is believed that more than 1 million people are living with HIV and more than 500,000 have died from AIDS.

Myth #2: Women who are HIV positive will definitely spread the disease to their unborn babies.

Fact: If a woman knows that she is HIV positive early in her pregnancy and receives the right treatment, her chances of spreading the virus to her unborn baby are less than 2 percent in the United States. Without treatment, however, this risk increases to approximately 25 percent.

Myth #3: Women can't give men HIV.


Although it is far more difficult for men to get HIV from women, it can and does happen. Men have fewer areas on their genitals where the virus can enter the bloodstream, but it can do so at the urethra (the opening of the penis's tip) or through cuts or sores on the shaft. If a man has an untreated STD such as syphilis or gonorrhea, which can break the skin, his risk of his contracting HIV from a female partner increases.

Myth #4: HIV cannot be transmitted during oral sex.

Fact: As the CDC explains, it's quite possible to become infected with HIV through performing or receiving oral sex. And the risk of transmission increases if the person performing oral sex has cuts or sores around or in their mouth or throat, if the person receiving oral sex ejaculates in the mouth of the person performing oral sex, or if the person receiving oral sex has another sexually transmitted disease. Although it's difficult to determine the exact degree of risk, research suggests that the risk of getting HIV via oral sex is less than that of unprotected anal or vaginal sex.

Myth #5: HIV is the same thing as AIDS.

Fact: According to the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC), HIV and AIDS are not one in the same. HIV is a virus that attacks and breaks down the body's immune system and can lead to AIDS. However, AIDS is only diagnosed when HIV patients develop one of the serious infections connected with HIV or if blood tests reveal that their immune systems have been severely damaged by the virus. Along these lines, a person can be infected with HIV for years without developing AIDS.

Myth #6: People cannot get HIV from tattoos or body piercings.

Fact: If tools are not properly cleaned and sterilized properly between clients, it is possible to get HIV (as well as other blood-borne infections, such as hepatitis B) from tattoos or body piercings. For this reason, the CDC recommends that tools intended to penetrate the skin be used only once, then disposed of or thoroughly cleaned and sterilized between clients.

Myth #7: HIV antibody testing is unreliable.

Fact: According to experts, antibody testing is a well-established medical technique and exceeds the performance of testing for most other infectious diseases. In fact, many current HIV antibody tests have sensitivity and specificity in excess of 96 percent and are therefore quite reliable.

Myth #8: There is a cure for HIV/AIDS.

Fact: Although scientists have made great strides in understanding, diagnosing, preventing, and managing the disease, there is still no cure for HIV/AIDS. Two promising treatment advances include highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART), which is designed to stabilize symptoms, and antiretroviral (post-exposure prophylaxis), which reduces the chances of acquiring HIV when administered within 72 hours of exposure to the virus.