The theme for World AIDS Day from 2011-15 is ‘Getting to Zero’ – zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. Many people are gravely misinformed about the disease and how it spreads and this often leads to stigmatisation of the HIV positive. To commemorate World AIDS Day we bust some of the most common myths about the condition:
Myth 1: One can get HIV by being around people who are HIV+.
The disease can only be transmitted through body fluids like blood, semen or breast milk. HIV cannot be spread through saliva, sweat or by touching. The virus finds it hard to survive when it isn’t living in bodily fluids. So you cannot catch HIV by:
- Breathing the same air as someone who is HIV+
- Hugging, kissing, or shaking hands with someone who is HIV+
- Touching a toilet seat or doorknob handle after an HIV+ person
- Sharing food with an HIV+ person
Myth 2: One can get HIV from mosquitoes.
There’s no way you can get HIV from a mosquito. Technically, even if a mosquito which has bit an HIV positive person were to bite you there’s no chance of the virus being transmitted because mosquitoes don’t inject any blood into your system. Academically speaking you could get the virus, if a mosquito which has bit an HIV positive person were to bite you and you killed the mosquito over broken skin allowing its blood to enter your system through the broken skin. But this is just theoretical and it has never been recorded in real life.
Myth 3: A person who is HIV+ or has AIDS is easy to spot.
No. Symptoms vary from person to person. In most cases, after contracting the virus people experience some flu-like symptoms which then disappear. The condition can lay dormant for years without people realising they have the disease.
Myth 4: HIV will progress to AIDS and the person will die soon
HIV only progresses to AIDS if left untreated. Antiretroviral treatments can stop the various AIDS-like conditions from manifesting for years. If the drug procedure is continued the viral load in the blood is undetectable and the person will not exhibit any AIDS-like diseases. Regular medication will prevent the HIV strain from affecting the resistance of the body.
Myth 5: The only people who get HIV are homosexuals, sex workers and intravenous drug users. I don’t need to worry.
There’s a common misconception that unless one falls in the above group they can’t get HIV. It was particularly bolstered because the aforementioned groups are high-risk groups who are more exposed to the virus. The fact remains that anyone can get HIV. For example, a normal person can get it from a faulty blood transfusion procedure and everyone needs to remain vigilant.
Myth 6: Drugs are so powerful that you can stop taking them after some time
Sometimes the medical treatment can be extremely agonising for patients because the drugs are quite strong. But stopping the procedure will again make the person vulnerable to the virus which can then allow opportunistic infections to attack the body. It’s vital not to stop the medication procedure.
Myth 7: One can’t get HIV from oral sex
While it’s true that HIV is harder to transmit through oral sex than anal or vaginal intercourse, there still remains some chance of the virus being transmitted. For example, a person’s genitals could have cuts and bruises which could cause the virus to be transmitted.
Myth 8: Only people from the lower socio-economic class are affected by HIV/AIDS.
HIV knows no class. Anyone can fall prey to the condition. Participating in risky sexual behaviour like unprotected sex with strangers, unhygienic use of syringes and needled and transmission from an HIV positive mother to child are all possible scenarios.
Myth 9: HIV and AIDS are only caused through sex.
The viral strains can also spread through unsafe and unhygienic usage of needles. This can occur in hospitals, tattoo parlours and in individuals taking intravenous drugs. Also, breast milk from an HIV infected mother can cause HIV in the new born, if breast fed unknowingly. Very rarely, HIV can also spread through deep kissing if either of the persons are HIV+ and have bleeding gums.
Myth 10: The baby of a HIV+ pregnant mother will also have the infection.
There are less than two per cent chances of the baby being infected with HIV. If the condition of the mother is previously known, ART can prevent the unborn baby from being infected. Whether an HIV mother can or cannot breastfeed is still in a grey research area. One research in South Africa found that babies who were breastfed by their HIV positive mothers showed a lesser likelihood of mother-to-child transmission HIV than the ones who were breastfed and also given additional solids. Others state that HIV positive mothers shouldn’t breastfeed. For the record, the WHO endorses breastfeeding among HIV positive women who are undergoing antiretroviral treatment.