In India, being diagnosed with HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) comes with a social stigma of it being a ‘bad’ disease to have and that it is a dead end for anyone who has it. This leads to people making up theories or believing things about this disease which are not true. With proper treatment and medication, the spread of HIV/AIDS can be managed. According to UNAIDS research done in 2017, new HIV ailments have reduced by 46%, and AIDS-related deaths have decreased by 22% since 2010 in India. This World AIDS Day, lets demystify some of the myths that are commonly heard.
MYTH 1: I Can Get HIV by Being Around HIV+ People
One of the biggest misconceptions that people have about HIV is that is can be transferred via touch, sweat or saliva. Research has shown that one cannot get HIV by:
- Staying in the same surrounding/environment as a HIV+ person
- Touching anything that HIV+ person has touched
- Drinking from the same water bottle
- Shaking hands or hugging someone who is diagnosed with HIV+
- Sharing the same utensils for cooking and eating
MYTH 2: Condoms are the ONLY Way to Prevent HIV
There are many ways that a healthy person can get infected by HIV sexual transmission through unprotected vaginal and anal sex account for most of these cases. Although condoms are one of the ways to prevent HIV and STDs, it is not the ONLY way to avert HIV. If someone is at a higher risk of HIV exposure, he/she is prescribed pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication. Post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is another emergency medication that can be taken after having unprotected sex or other possible vulnerabilities. It should be consumed immediately after exposure and should be taken for 28 days post that.
MYTH 3: You Can Tell If Someone has HIV/AIDS by Looking at Them
One cannot simply tell by looking at a person whether he/she is HIV+ or has AIDS. Symptoms of HIV or AIDS can go unrecognized for years as these symptoms can also be associated with common diseases or conditions. The only way to know if someone has HIV is by getting a test done.
MYTH 4: HIV+ People Cannot Safely have Children
A woman who has been diagnosed with HIV+ can have children. There are risk of transferring the virus to the child but if the right treatment is started, there are higher chances that the baby may not contract HIV from mother. Once the doctor has put the mother on HIV medication, she needs to follow that throughout the pregnancy and 4-6 weeks after birth to reduce the risk of transmitting it to her baby.
MYTH 5: HIV is the Same as AIDS
HIV stands for Human immunodeficiency virus and AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. Although the HIV virus is responsible for AIDS, it does not mean that both are the same thing. A person infected with HIV virus, if left untreated, will develop AIDS over a period which is a serious condition where the person’s immune system is unable to protect him. With early detection and medication, one can reduce the risk of AIDS.