Dr. LaShonda Spencer
Ignorance isn't always bliss...especially when it comes to your health. You may think HIV is a disease that will never affect you, but it's time to think again. Dr. LaShonda Spencer, an infectious disease specialist at MCA Clinic at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, dispels seven misconceptions about HIV. How to protect yourself and prevent the spread of this virus.

1. I'm not high risk, so I won't get HIV.

Dr. LaShonda Spencer: Many of the HIV positive women in our clinic considered themselves "low risk." This low-risk status is based on lack of behaviors generally associated with acquiring HIV. Typically these women are in a stable, monogamous relationships, have had one or two lifetime partners, don't use drugs and have not had a blood transfusion in the past. However, what is not considered in this risk stratification is knowing your partner's status or risk. This includes whether your partner is aware of his HIV status, if he's using or used injection drugs or has had multiple female or male partners—these behaviors make the partner high risk and put women at risk for HIV.

For all women, it is important to know their and their partner's HIV statuses. Nearly 80 percent of new HIV infections in women occur from heterosexual sex. The best thing a woman can do is to protect herself by using condoms at all times and insist that her partners be tested for HIV.

2. He looks like a nice guy, so he can't have HIV.

Dr. Spencer: A person can be infected with HIV and not look sick, particularly in the early stages of the disease. A man may not consider himself to be at risk for HIV as well, so he may not think he needs to get tested. The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested, and I encourage women to get tested with their partners. The key is for women to be able to discuss this with their partners. This discussion should happen before you become intimate. In some relationships, this may be difficult; however, it is our job as providers to help educate and empower women in their relationships in order to protect themselves.

3. Women can't get HIV from oral sex.

Dr. Spencer: Oral sex is less risky, and the risk of HIV transmission is extremely low. However, you need to be safe: Oral sex should be performed with condoms or dental dams.

4 more myths debunked

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