HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that is transmitted through certain body fluids and once it is reached the blood stream, it begins to attack the body’s immune system. This can lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), a disease that severely weakens the immunity and can result in severe life-threatening infections. Currently, about 35 million people are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide.
World AIDS Day, held on 1 December each year, aims to raise awareness across the world about issues surrounding HIV and AIDS, as well as to show support for people living with HIV and to remember people who have died from the disease.
There are a lot myths and misconceptions about HIV/ AIDS, which can result in panic and desperation, as well as creating barriers to the treatment and prevention strategies. Here are some common myths and misconceptions about HIV/ AIDS.
Myth #1: HIV can be spread through casual contact.
You can not get HIV through casual contact, such as sharing eating utensils, shaking hands, hugging or even kissing. HIV can only be transmitted through infected blood, breast milk, semen, and vaginal fluids. It can also be transmitted through needles contaminated with HIV-infected blood (such as needles used for injecting drugs, tattooing or body piercing.)
Myth #2: Oral sex does not transmit HIV.
The risk of HIV transmission through oral sex is very low because the mouth is an unfriendly environment for HIV. A person receiving oral sex is generally not at risk because that person is coming into contact only with saliva, which does not transmit HIV. However, the presence of other sexually transmitted infections can increase the risk of HIV transmission during oral sex.
Myth #3: Mosquitoes can transmit HIV.
Mosquitoes do not transmit blood of other people they suck to the new victim. However, mosquitoes do inject their saliva into their victims, which may carry viruses, such as dengue fever, malaria, West Nile virus, etc. HIV virus does not survive or reproduce in mosquito, so the virus is not transmitted in the saliva of mosquito.
Myth #4: HIV is a death sentence.
When the AIDS epidemic first became prevalent in the 80s, the death rate was extremely high, and a diagnosis of HIV seemed a lot like a death sentence. However, there has been tremendous progress in treatment for HIV over the years. While there is still no cure for HIV, antiretroviral drugs allow people with HIV to live much longer, healthier lives.
Myth #5: HIV is a gay disease.
HIV is not a gay disease. In fact, all people can get HIV from unsafe sex or other modes of blood to blood contact, like sharing needles. HIV is spread most often through heterosexual contact worldwide.
Myth #6: HIV positive people can not have babies.
It is possible to have a baby if you or your partner is HIV-positive. While it’s impossible to guarantee that the infection won’t pass on to the child. About 25 percent of children born to HIV-infected mothers get infected with HIV during pregnancy, while about 15 percent of the children get infected through breastfeeding. However, with modern treatments, this rate can be greatly reduced.
According to the March of Dimes, antiretroviral therapy (ART) can reduce the risk of a treated mother passing HIV to her baby to 2 percent or less.
Myth #7: HIV infections can be cured by having sex with a virgin.
This is absolutely not true. This myth predates HIV/AIDS and is thought to have originated in the Victorian era where it was believed that having sex with a virgin would cure one of venereal diseases, like gonorrhoea and syphilis. This has become a more popular trend in South Africa but there is no cure for HIV/AIDS.
Myth #8: Partners who are both HIV positive do not need to use condoms during sexual contact.
Even if you and your partner are both HIV positive, you still need to practice safe sex in order to prevent yourselves from contracting drug resistant strains of HIV, as you and your partner could have different strains of HIV. This can lead to re-infection, which will make the treatment of HIV infection more difficult. The new HIV strain may become more resistant to the current treatment taken, or cause the current treatment option to be ineffective.
Myth #9: An HIV-positive person who receives antiretroviral therapy will not spread the virus.
Antiretroviral therapy can reduce the amount of HIV in the body but the virus still remains in the body and can be transmitted to others. So far, there is no drug that is 100% effective at preventing the spread of HIV.