Debunking common HIV myths


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Assistant Professor of Global and Community Health Rodman Turpin provides insight into common myths regarding HIV and AIDS. 

Approximately 1.2 million American citizens and 38.4 million people worldwide live with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), underscoring the importance of raising awareness about this epidemic, encouraging others to get tested, and fighting the misinformation about this condition that persists today. Stigmas surrounding HIV create barriers to accessing health services, educating others about the virus, and addressing prevention techniques. They also lead to inaccuracies about how the virus spreads and affects the daily lives of those with HIV. When left untreated, HIV can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), the late stage of an HIV infection when the body’s immune system is damaged and the patient is susceptible to opportunistic diseases.

In recognition of World AIDS Day, Rodman Turpin, assistant professor in the Department of Global and Community Health, provides insight into common HIV myths to combat the stigmas surrounding the illness. Turpin is available for further comment.

Myth: Having HIV always leads to AIDS

With proper medication management, people who are HIV-positive can live long, healthy lives without developing AIDS. Without medication, HIV weakens the immune system, making people who are HIV-positive more vulnerable to opportunistic infections. AIDS develops when HIV is left untreated, so it is important to test regularly and seek treatment with a trusted medical provider.

Myth: You can catch HIV just from being around someone who is positive

HIV is not transmitted through close contact, nor through hugging, kissing, or holding hands. HIV may be contracted when a person is exposed to bodily fluids during anal or vaginal sex. HIV may also be contracted by sharing a needle during intravenous drug use with someone who is HIV-positive. Mother-to-child transmission can occur during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding, but this is rare today with medical care and supervision, thanks to medical advancements and prevention measures.

Myth: Only LGBTQ+ people can contract HIV

HIV only infects humans, but it does not discriminate about which type of person it infects. Anyone can contract HIV after being exposed to the virus. Those who are in the LGBTQ+ community are more vulnerable to contracting the virus, but this community is not solely the one vulnerable to contracting HIV.

Myth: People who are HIV-positive will always be contagious

After approximately six months of taking antiretroviral therapy as prescribed, the virus can become undetectable through a blood test. A person is considered “durably undetectable” when their blood tests do not detect HIV for six months. At that point, there is effectively no risk of transmitting the virus to sexual partners. This is only possible through continued treatment, as stopping medication will allow the virus to multiply in the blood and be susceptible to transmission. Drug resistance can occur when stopping and restarting treatment, which would make the medication ineffective.

Those who are undetectable have a higher chance of not transmitting the virus to sexual partners or from sharing needles, syringes, or other injection tools. Being undetectable also helps prevent mother-to-child transmission.

Myth: There is no medication to prevent HIV

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a highly effective medication for preventing HIV by reducing the chances of contracting HIV from sex or intravenous drug use. When used as prescribed, PrEP reduces the risk of contracting HIV from a sexual partner by 99%. For those who inject drugs, PrEP reduces the chances of contracting HIV by about 74%. Those who are considering taking PrEP should consult with their medical provider.


Image of Rodman Turpin

Dr. Rodman Turpin is an assistant professor in George Mason University’s Department of Global and Community Health, College of Public Health. Turpin's research focuses on HIV and sexually transmitted disease (STI) prevention among racial/ethnic and sexual minorities, focusing on Black sexual minority men. His work employs applications of intersectionality and syndemic theory (particularly related to racism, homophobia, and related stigma), novel methodologic approaches (including latent variable analysis and causal inference modeling), and community engagement to understand social and structural risk factors for HIV/STI-related outcomes.

For media inquiries about Mason’s faculty experts in HIV and STI research and prevention, contact Michelle Thompson at 703-993-3485 or

About Mason

George Mason University, Virginia’s largest public research university, enrolls 39,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason has grown rapidly over the last half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity, and commitment to accessibility. In 2022, Mason celebrates 50 years as an independent institution. Learn more at

About the College of Public Health at George Mason University

The College of Public Health at George Mason University is the first and only College of Public Health in Virginia, combining public health transdisciplinary research, education, and practice in the Commonwealth as a national exemplar. The College enrolls more than 1,900 undergraduate and 1,300 graduate students in our nationally recognized programs, including six undergraduate degrees, eight master’s degrees, five doctoral degrees, and six professional certificate programs. The College is comprised of the School of Nursing and the Departments of Global and Community Health, Health Administration and Policy, Nutrition and Food Studies, and Social Work.