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Myth vs. Reality: HIV/AIDS

In 2009, nearly one fourth (23%) of people diagnosed with AIDS in the United States were ages 50+. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that by 2015 that figure will double. Older adults — especially Latino seniors who are at a disproportionate risk — are often disconnected from and overlooked in the HIV/AIDS dialogue. However, it is crucial to involve everyone in the discussion of how to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS. One way of doing this by dispelling common myths seniors may have:

Myth: HIV is a contagious disease, like a flu or common cold.
Reality: HIV is not transmitted through saliva, sneezes, or sweat. Casual contact (shaking hands, sharing utensils, or kissing) doesn’t transmit the virus either.

Myth: People infected with HIV look unhealthy.
Reality: People living with HIV (PLWH) look no different from any other person for several years after being infected with the virus, and may continue infecting others. If untreated after 8 to 10 years, then AIDS will develop, a deadly complication of HIV. On the other hand, those who get treated as soon as possible can have a good quality of life and potentially never develop AIDS.

Myth: Once you are infected with HIV, you will get AIDS right away.
Reality: Those who get tested early, start getting treated upon learning their HIV-positive status, and stick to the treatment, can potentially live the rest of their lives without developing AIDS. Once infected it may take 8 to 10 years to develop AIDS, a deadly complication of HIV.

Myth: Older adults are immune to HIV.
Reality: Anyone can get infected with HIV at any age. In fact, nearly 25% of people diagnosed with AIDS in the United States were ages 50+ in 2009[1].

Myth: There is no point in getting treated for HIV, I will die anyways.
Reality: PLWH who are under treatment can keep their virus (load) count very low, and live their lives with HIV as a chronic disease. In addition, there is evidence that people whose HIV is well controlled with anti-viral medications are also less likely to transmit HIV to others. Therefore, treatment is also a way to prevent the spread of HIV.

[1] HIV Surveillance Report: Diagnoses of HIV infection and AIDS in the United States and Dependent Areas, 2009.