HIV Misinformation Feeds Fear, Discrimination

By Laura Stepp, HIV/AIDS Director

Because of incredible advances in medicine, people who are living with HIV can lead long, happy and productive lives. Our medical clinic treats about 500 patients, and the vast majority of those patients are virally suppressed!

It is a fact that HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva or sweat or tears. HIV is not spread through hugging, holding hands, coughing or sneezing. And you cannot get HIV from a toilet seat.

And yet, according to national scientific surveys, only 43% of us are comfortable interacting with people living with HIV. Fifty-three percent of non-LGBTQ people surveyed noted they would be uncomfortable interacting with a medical professional who has HIV. Forty-four percent are uncomfortable around a hair stylist or barber living with HIV.  And 35% are uncomfortable with a teacher living with HIV. 

Misinformation feeds stigma, which leads to fear, prejudice and discrimination. 

We can empower the entire community to play a role in reducing the prejudice, stigma, and fear associated with HIV/AIDS.  But only about half of us feel knowledgeable about HIV, so we should educate ourselves and people we know.

Here are some myths and facts about HIV/AIDS.


HIV and AIDS are the same.


HIV and AIDS are not the same.  Most people who have HIV will never develop AIDS.  HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It’s a virus that can only infect humans and leads to the weakening of the immune system.

When HIV is left untreated, it can wreak havoc on a person’s immune system. As this happens, the body is less able to fight off infections. AIDS stands for “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome,” which means the immune system has been made less effective by HIV. 

Myth: You can get HIV from sharing cups and utensils with someone who is living with the virus.

Fact: HIV is not transmitted through saliva, tears or sweat. HIV is also not spread through hugging, holding hands, coughing or sneezing. And you can’t get HIV from a toilet seat.

Myth: You can tell that someone is living with HIV by looking at them.      

Fact: No, you cannot identify people who are living with HIV by mere physical appearance. You cannot identify HIV-positive people by the symptoms they have.

Myth: A diagnosis of HIV is a death sentence.

Fact: Although HIV is serious and there is no cure, people with HIV can now live longer, healthier lives thanks to early detection, and new and more effective treatments.

Myth: HIV affects childbirth and fertility.

Fact: HIV does not affect fertility and childbirth, especially for women who are receiving appropriate and adequate treatment.  However, not taking medications while pregnant can lead to mother-to-child transmission. 

Myth: Only gay men can get HIV.

Fact: Although the infection rates are more prominent in gay and bisexual men, anyone, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation can become infected with HIV.

You and I likely know someone who is living with HIV.  They are our colleagues, neighbors, friends, family and others who we love.  They have careers and children.  They volunteer in the community.  They care for parents and siblings. 

They are some of the kindest, smartest and creative people I know and they demonstrate great strength, faith and bravery.  I am honored, grateful and humbled to know them and serve them.

Medicine keeps people living with HIV healthy, but a great threat to their lives continues to be stigma and the fear that comes with it -- fear of the disease, fear of what people will think of them, fear of how they will be treated by others, and fear of being rejected by those who they love. 

That fear is a great barrier to diagnosis, care and prevention.  All of us have a role in reducing stigma, and taking away that fear by educating ourselves and examining our own attitudes.  

If you or someone you know would like to have a speaker come to your organization, or would like a free confidential HIV test, please call 330-743-7853.

"A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." Proverbs 17:22

For 30 years, the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown have provided programs to benefit those among us who are living with HIV.