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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. http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/surveillance/resources/reports/2009report/

World AIDS Day: HIV / AIDS Myths and Realities

December 1st is World AIDS Day, and this year also marks the 30th anniversary of the discovery of this disease. Although we have made tremendous medical advances that have helped improve health outcomes for people living with HIV (PLWH), there are still 56,300 new HIV infections each year in the United States,[1] and almost 25% of the people living with HIV (PLWH) in the United States are ages 50 or older, which is up from 17% in 2001.

One of the ways we can take action on World AIDS Day is by dispelling those myths about the disease, which inform our belief system and therefore, our actions. This is the only way to eliminate the stigma and correct misconceptions:

Myth: Older adults are immune to HIV.
Reality: Anyone can get infected with HIV at any point in their lives. In fact, almost 25% of the people living with HIV/AIDS are 50 years or older.

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

Myth: People living with HIV don’t look healthy.
Reality: People living with HIV (PLWH) can look no different from any other person for several years after being infected with the virus, and may continue infecting others until they develop AIDS with deadly complications. On the other hand, PLWH who are under treatment can enjoy quality of life and never come to 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.

Myth: There is no point in getting treated for HIV, I will die anyways.
Reality: Breakthroughs in medical treatments, are allowing PLWH who are under treatment to keep the virus (load) count very low or undetectable, and live their lives with HIV as a chronic disease.

As the matriarchs and patriarchs of their households, Hispanic older adults can play an important and significant role in breaking the silence to eliminate the stigma and create an open environment for a constructive dialogue. Take a minute to talk to your loved ones about HIV/AIDS, and join the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and NHCOA in acting against AIDS!

NHCOA is a proud partner of the CDC’s Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative (AAALI), an effort to reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS among diverse communities. For more information, visit www.actagainstaids.org. To learn more about World AIDS Day, visit http://aids.gov/world-aids-day/. To view and download material from NHCOA’s World AIDS Day communication kit, click here.

[1] Aids.Gov. HIV/AIDS Basics: U.S. Statistics. [cited; Available from: http://aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/hiv-aids-101/overview/statistics/]