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On this World AIDS Day, we take a fresh look at the 10 most widely held misconceptions about HIV, AIDS, and the spread of the AIDS virus.

The majority of people alive on earth today can't remember a time when there wasn't an AIDS pandemic. But despite 30 years of experience with the disease and enormous, world-wide education efforts, myths and misconceptions about the disease persist.


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Here are 10 of the most common misunderstandings about HIV and AIDS, and the facts everyone needs to know:

1. Only gay men get AIDS.

World-wide, the overwhelming majority of people who have HIV or AIDS contracted it through straight sex. 

Different locations, however, have different groups in which the virus is most common.

In one area, the most commonly infected group may be men who have sex with female prostitutes who pass the infection on to their wives. In another area, the most commonly HIV-positive group may be men who have sex with men. In yet another area, the virus may be most common among intravenous drug users.

2. Young people can't get HIV.

In the United States, the fastest growing HIV-positive population is males aged 13 to 24, about 25,000 new cases a year.In this group, about 80% of new cases among males occur during sexual intercourse with other males in the same age group. About 57% of the young males getting HIV are African-American, about 20% are Hispanic, and about 20% are white. 

The greatest number of new cases of HIV in the US occur in young adults aged 20 to 24. 

3. You can't get HIV through oral sex.

Actually, any kind of sex with a partner can transmit HIV, but there are vastly different risks with different acts:

  • If you share a syringe to shoot up drugs with an HIV-positive person, your risk of contracting HIV from that act is 1 in 150.
  • If you are the passive partner in unprotected anal intercourse with an HIV-positive man, your risk of contracting HIV from that act is up to 1 in 30.
  • If you are the active partner in unprotected anal intercourse with an HIV-positive man or woman, your risk of contracting HIV from that act is up to 1 in 250.
  • If you are a man having unprotected penile-vaginal intercourse with an HIV-positive woman, you risk of contracting HIV from that act is up to 1 in 250.
  • If you are a woman having unprotected penile-vaginal intercourse with an HIV-positive man, your risk of contracting HIV from that act is 1 in 300.
  • If you perform oral sex on an HIV-positive partner, your risk of contracting HIV from that act is up to 1 in 500.
  • If you are a man receiving oral sex from an HIV-positive partner, your risk of contracting HIV from that act is up to 1 in 20,000.
  • Performing or receiving cunnilingus (oral sex on a woman) may result in HIV infection, but this is only likely if there is an existing infection in the gums or mouth of the person performing it.
  • Various forms of mutual masturbation are only likely to transmit the disease if body fluids fall on broken skin.
Just because it is highly unlikely that you will get HIV if you engage in a specific kind of unprotected sex, however, doesn't mean it's impossible.

There are people who got infected with HIV the very first time, and in some cases, the only time, they had sex with an infected partner.

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