Updated 26 June 2014

HIV transmission myths

You won't get HIV/Aids if you sleep with a fat woman, but you can get it from hugging and mosquitoes. Preposterous and dangerous myths like these unfortunately abound.

You won't get HIV/Aids if you sleep with a fat woman, HIV can be transmitted through hugging, mosquitoes can infect you. These are all preposterous and dangerous myths surrounding HIV/Aids and there are hundreds more. It's time to check the facts.

More than two decades of practical experience and research into the epidemic have shown that HIV is NOT transmitted through:

  • airborne routes such as coughing, sneezing, talking or laughing.
  • casual skin contact such as handshaking, hugging and touching.
  • sharing water, food, plates, cups, spoons, baths, showers and toilet seats with an HIV-infected individual.
  • sharing clothing, towels and bed linen with an infected individual - provided that the linen is clean.
  • public swimming pools (chlorine destroys and water dilutes the virus).
  • pets or insects such as mosquitoes, bedbugs and moths. (Distribution patterns of Aids in Africa show that young children who are bitten by mosquitoes do not contract HIV infection. A mosquito furthermore usually obtains its entire meal from a single person. If a mosquito is disturbed and flies to another person, it will suck blood out rather than inject it.)
  • playing team sports - provided that there is no contact with blood.
  • restaurants and cafeterias. (Exposure to heat, air, salad dressings and gastric juices destroy the HI virus.)
  • sharing telephones, drinking fountains and public transport with HIV-infected people.
  • physical contact with an HIV-infected person, such as hugging and comforting.
  • living with an Aids patient and sharing household equipment. Research shows that the people living with an Aids patient do not contract the disease if they take the necessary precautions such as, for example, adhering to the rules of basic hygiene, abstaining from sharing razors and toothbrushes (a person may have bleeding gums) and by avoiding contact with body fluids.
  • social contact between schoolchildren and sharing school facilities (provided that practices such as the mingling of blood by gang members are avoided).
  • normal (dry) kissing. (The virus occurs in very low concentrations in saliva and a dry kiss or a kiss in greeting appears to be safe. People should be warned to avoid French or deep kissing, if there are sores or punctures in the oral cavity that occur, for example, when a person has bleeding gums).
  • donating blood. Although HIV can be transmitted through blood transfusions or through receiving infected blood, there is no way that a person can become infected through the process of donating or giving blood - provided that the instruments used during the process are clean.

Myths can be very dangerous
There are truly horrifying myths that have surfaced in some communities about how to avoid HIV infection and Aids. These myths are extremely dangerous and should be counteracted in our society by means of intensive public education.

Some people (for example) erroneously believe that they will not get Aids (or that Aids can actually be cured) if they have sex with

  • fat people (they evidently don’t have the “slimming disease”),
  • virgins,
  • babies and children

Beliefs like these can be the cause of abhorrent criminal behaviour and can also cause HIV infection to spread like wildfire.

(- Health24, updated January 2009)


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

HIV/Aids expert

Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules