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5 HIV cure myths exposed

Christine Humphrey

17 January 2018

There is no cure or vaccine for HIV – we debunk myths and rumours which suggest there are.

A chemist holding up and looking at a glass beaker with blue liquid inside
Photos are used for illustrative purposes. They do not imply health status or behaviour. Credit: iStock/Bliznetsov

Although cure and vaccine research is developing rapidly and advances in antiretroviral treatment mean people living with HIV have near-normal life expectancy, we are still waiting on a cure for HIV to be found.

Despite this, stories continue to circulate online and within communities suggesting that there are alternative ways of getting rid of the virus for good. Here we debunk some common HIV cure myths to make sure you know that treatment is the only way to keep yourself healthy when living with HIV…

Myth 1: Alternative medicines and therapies can cure HIV

Some people choose to take alternative forms of medicine, such as herbal remedies, as a natural way of treating HIV. However, there is no evidence that these medicines work.

Taking herbal medicines can be dangerous as they will not protect your immune system from infection and may interact poorly with ARVs if you are taking them alongside treatment. The only way you can stay healthy when living with HIV is to take antiretroviral treatment as prescribed by your doctor or healthcare worker, and to attend viral load monitoring appointments to make sure they are working for you. 

Myth 2: I’m undetectable and can’t pass on HIV – does this mean I’m cured?

Some people who adhere to treatment well are able to achieve a viral load so low that it is classed as ‘undetectable’. This also means they can’t pass HIV on to others. This is great progress, however, if you’ve recently been given an undetectable diagnosis this doesn’t mean that you’re cured, as HIV is still present in your body.

This means that if you stop taking treatment then your viral load can increase – affecting your long-term health and making HIV transmittable again. You can read more about what it means to be undetectable here.

Myth 3: Having no symptoms means you’re cured of HIV

HIV can exist in the body without displaying any symptoms sometimes for up to 10 or 15 years – so you may be living with the virus for some time and feel absolutely fine. Even though you may feel psychically well, without treatment the virus can seriously compromise the immune system over time leaving you vulnerable to harmful and life-threatening illnesses.

If you’ve been diagnosed with HIV, are on treatment and aren’t experiencing any symptoms of illness then this means that your treatment is working at keeping your immune system strong.  

Myth 4: A higher power can cure HIV 

Across the globe there is a strong belief that prayer can be healing. Although many people find that their faith helps them to deal with some of the difficulties of living with HIV, the only way that you can ensure that you stay healthy is by taking antiretroviral treatment. Unfortunately, there is still no cure for HIV, so that includes religious practices too. 

Religion can be really good for providing supportive community networks, but you should also continue to visit your healthcare worker for treatment and medical advice.

Myth 5: Having sex with a virgin will cleanse HIV  

The ‘virgin cleansing’ myth is the belief sex with a virgin girl can cure men of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. The myth is old and completely untrue – it is believed to have begun circulating in 16th century Europe, when people were first starting to get syphilis and gonorrhoea, but it is now a popular HIV-cure-myth in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Having sex with a virgin will not cure HIV, it will just put them at risk of being infected with the virus if protection isn’t used. For those under the age of consent, or those who have not consented to sex, this is also a form of sexual violence and is a criminal offence.  
Get the facts about staying healthy on treatment when living with HIV

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