9 HIV Cure Myths Debunked
by Allison Mathews, PhD
A few months ago, a man living with HIV reached out to the 2BeatHIV project to learn more about HIV and HIV cure research. The 2BeatHIV project is a research project at UNC Chapel Hill that uses crowdsourcing to identify new ideas from community members, organizations, and businesses about ways to engage the public about HIV cure research. He told us that he was scared to get on medication because of all of the myths he heard about what the medicine could do to him. Specifically, some people told him that a bee sting could cure HIV. Unfortunately for this young man and others like him, myths about HIV cure do more damage that the actual disease.
Myths about HIV cure are fairly common around the world, including the United States. Indeed, there is a belief among some African Americans living with HIV (PLWH) that the government is purposefully withholding an HIV vaccine or cure from the public. Some PLWH also believe that dietary supplements and alternative medicine will cure HIV. Given the pervasive nature of HIV cure myths, it is important to know the facts about the current state of HIV cure research and try to address some of the most common myths.
Here are the 9 most common questions and myths we have encountered through our work and in US popular culture.
Myth 1: There is a cure for HIV.
There is no cure for HIV. There is one documented case of Timothy Ray Brown being cured, but we do not know how to safely replicate those findings in other humans yet. Check out searcHIV’s interview with HIV-cured Timothy Brown.
Myth 2: Scientists have never used Timothy Brown as a research case to find a cure.
Scientists are currently examining multiple strategies to cure HIV based on findings from Timothy Brown. This short video describes one of the strategies being explored at the HIV Cure Center at UNC Chapel Hill:
UNC Science Short: Can ‘kick and kill’ cure HIV?
Myth 3: Timothy Brown is the only person that can be cured.
You can learn about all of the clinical trials being done to develop a cure that can be used on a mass scale:
Myth 4: Magic Johnson is cured of HIV.
Magic Johnson is not cured of HIV. He has repeatedly said he still has HIV and is taking medication to manage the disease. He is taking the same medication all people living with HIV are taking. His viral load is “undetectable” because he consistently takes his medication. Why Do People Still Think Magic Johnson Doesn’t Have HIV?
Myth 5: Having an “undetectable” viral load means someone is cured of HIV.
An HIV-positive person can achieve undetectable levels after undergoing antiretroviral therapy (ART). However, there is still HIV virus that “sleeps” in hiding places throughout the body. Once a person stops medication, they will experience a rebound of HIV viral replication. Scientists are trying to find a way to eliminate the remaining dormant virus so people will no longer have to take medication.
Check this article to learn more:
HIV-Positive and ‘Undetectable’: What Does It Really Mean?
Myth 6: Pharmaceutical companies are withholding a cure from the public to make money on treatment medication.
Pharmaceutical companies are investing millions of dollars into research to find a cure for HIV. They are currently investing millions of dollars into providing “HIV treatment as prevention.” This means that people living with HIV who consistently take their medication are over 90% protected from passing the virus to HIV negative partners. Pharmaceutical companies also provide an HIV prevention pill called PrEP, which can protect HIV negative people over 90% from getting HIV.
There will continue to be a market for HIV prevention, treatment, and cure as long as the possibility of infection exists.
Check this article that explains the role of pharmaceutical companies in HIV cure research:
The For-Profit HIV Cure Research Crunch
Myth 7: The government is using HIV to control the population.
The United States federal, state, and local governments have dedicated millions of dollars to HIV prevention and treatment over the past 30 years. Governments can, and often do, choose to partner with non-profits to do HIV-related work.
Check this site for a timeline of HIV/AIDS and the role of the US government in helping fight the epidemic.
Myth 8. A holistic diet and lifestyle alone can cure HIV.
While holistic medicine, spirituality, and a healthy diet can supplement HIV treatment, it is NOT enough to cure HIV. The virus attacks the immune system and needs anti-retroviral drugs to fight off the infection.
Read an explanation here:
Alternative (Complementary) Therapies for HIV/AIDS: Entire Lesson
Myth 9: Black doctors have already found a cure but it is being suppressed.
No one has found a cure for HIV yet. There is a diversity of doctors and scientists, including Black doctors from countries in Africa and those in the United States, who are examining multiple strategies to cure HIV across the world. Racial/ethnic diversity is welcome because people with different perspectives can help address the myriad issues related to finding a cure for HIV.
To learn more about how you can be involved in finding a cure for HIV, visit these websites: