In the spirit of WHO World AIDS day, let’s go over a few popular notions about HIV and AIDS to see which ones are fact and which ones are good-ol fiction.
Adapted from AIDS Info
HIV is curable
Fiction! There’s currently no definitive cure for HIV but there are medications known as antiretrovirals that are used to reduce the chances of HIV progression to AIDS, as well as to reduce the viral load in the body.
“I can get HIV if I touch an infected person”
Fiction! you won’t contract HIV by touching, hugging or shaking hands with an HIV positive individual. This is because HIV is unable to survive outside the body cavity.
“I can get HIV if I get bitten by a mosquito that has previously bitten an HIV positive person”
Fiction! When a mosquito bites you, it does not transmit blood from a previous feed to your body. In addition to this, HIV doesn’t have the capability to survive inside insects for more than a very short period of time.
“I can get HIV if I swim in the same pool as a person with HIV”
Fiction! HIV can’t survive in water so it can’t be transmitted through water.
Adapted from Canapi
“My partner and I both have HIV so we don’t need to worry about protecting ourselves during sexual intercourse”
Fiction! There are many different strains of HIV and chances are, although you both have HIV, you might have contracted different strains of the virus. Having multiple strains of HIV makes treatment a little more tricky especially with drug-resistant strains. So my point is, you and your partner still need to protect yourselves even though you both have HIV.
“I can get HIV from coming in contact with an infected person’s sweat”
Fiction! It’s true that HIV can be transmitted through bodily fluids but, not all bodily fluids can effectively harbor the virus. Bodily fluids such as blood, breast milk, vaginal secretions, semen, ejaculate, cum, and pre-cum can transmit HIV. However, sweat, saliva, tears, urine, and feces have a very low risk of transmitting HIV.
“I can get HIV from having oral sex with an HIV positive individual”
Fact! There’s a significant chance of getting HIV through oral sex because genital secretions of infected individuals carry the HIV virus.
“I can get HIV if an HIV positive individual coughs or sneezes around me and I inhale”
Fiction! HIV isn’t an airborne disease and so can’t survive in the air.
“Everyone with HIV has symptoms”
Fiction! A person can have HIV and not show any symptoms for years after contracting the virus. HIV symptoms can be quite vague and similar to other common illnesses. Also, antiretroviral treatments suppress symptoms. If you think you might have been exposed to the virus, the best way to confirm or denounce this is to get yourself tested.
Adapted from Healthline
“I am HIV positive, so I can’t have an HIV negative child”
Fiction! Research has shown that the risk of transmitting HIV from mother to child can be as low as 1% if antiretroviral medications are taken judiciously as prescribed. Opting for cesarian sections and bottle feeding also reduces the transmission risk in cases of high viral load.
“Since I’m currently taking PrEP, there’s no need for me to practice safe sex”
Fiction! Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a medication that’s able to prevent HIV infection prior to contracting the virus if taken daily. It works by preventing the HIV virus from replicating in the body. If the virus can’t replicate, then it can’t cause HIV. However, PrEP doesn’t protect against other sexually transmitted infections. Safe sex is always the best option and shouldn’t be negotiable.
Adapted from CDC
“HIV isn’t really a big deal, there are medications for it and so I have no need to worry about preventing it”
Fiction! Although we’ve advanced to the point of antiretroviral treatments, we still don’t have a definitive cure for HIV. HIV can still progress to AIDS and subsequent death if not well looked after. Although fewer people are dying of the illness, the number of new cases hasn’t exactly decreased. Prevention they say is better than cure.
Adapted from World Economic Forum
“Only wealthy people can afford HIV treatment”
Fiction! Antiretroviral treatments are indeed expensive but the costs are covered by a good number of insurance companies. I am also aware of non-governmental organizations that subsidize the costs of treatment and tests, and sometimes administer them at no cost to those in the low-income brackets in various countries. If you’re in need of treatments or know someone who is, be sure to do some research and ask your healthcare provider about the different options available to you where you live.
“I have HIV, it’s the end of the line for me”
Definitely Fiction! Gone are the days when people readily died from HIV infection. Thanks to antiretroviral medications, HIV can be prevented from progressing to full-blown AIDS, the viral load can be suppressed and people with HIV can lead near-normal healthy and happy lives if they remain adherent to their prescribed medications. So keep the hope alive, it’s not a death sentence!
*Featured Image: Healthline
Dr. Wendy Evans-Uhegbu is a graduate of The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, with experience in Connected Health, Medical Technology, Clinical Research, Medical Education, Medical Communications, and Web Design/Development. She is a part of the Medics Abroad team with the role of Chief Communications Officer. She is also a Medical Writer at 3D4 Medical and runs a Medical Communications and Children’s books company (ODR Integrated Services/ ODR Books). She is the author of the newly published children’s book series “The Things Around Me”.