5 Myths You Probably Believe About AIDS

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What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is a syndrome which develops when a person has contracted the HIV virus. Consequently, people with AIDS experience a weakened immune system, which results in an increased susceptibility to life-threatening infections, cancers, and neurological disorders. AIDS is a chronic illness, for which there is currently no cure.

Symptoms of HIV/AIDS

Symptoms of HIV/AIDS vary depending on what phase of the infection an individual is in. If no treatment is sought for HIV, the progression to AIDS will taken roughly 10 years. By the time HIV has progressed to AIDS, the immune system has been severely damaged, making the individual highly susceptible to infections that would not usually impact on the well-being of people (i.e., the common cold). Some symptoms include:

    • Soaking night sweats
    • Recurring fever
    • Chronic diarrhoea
    • Persistent white sports or lesions in the mouth/on the tongue
    • Persistent, unexplained fatigue
    • Weight loss
    • Skin rashes
    • Bumps on the body

Global Statistics

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there were approximately 37 million people living with HIV or AIDS worldwide. Of this number, 2.6 million were children under the age of 15. It is estimated that 2 million individuals became newly infected with HIV in 2014. Thus, HIV/AIDS is still a global problem. Although our understanding of HIV/AIDS has increased, there still exists stigma surrounding this illness. The following article will address five commonly told myths about AIDS.

Myth 1: I can catch HIV/AIDS by being around people who have it.

Although HIV/AIDS can be contracted from someone who has the disease, it is passed through infected bodily fluids such as blood, semen, or breast milk. HIV/AIDS cannot be caught by simply being ‘near’ someone with the disease. Common myths about how HIV/AIDS can be contracted include touching someone with HIV, touching the sweat/tears of someone with HIV, insect bites, sharing swimming spaces with those with HIV, or touching toilet seats/door handles after someone with HIV has.

The five main ways in which HIV/AIDS can be contracted are: unprotected sex, from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding, drug use using an infected needle, infected organ/blood donations, and a healthcare worker who gets the blood of an infected client inside their body (i.e., accidental needle prick).

Myth 2: Once you are infected with HIV, your life is over.

Once an individual is infected with HIV, they will always carry the disease in their body; there is no cure. Although the deathrate from HIV/AIDS was extremely high in the early years of the AIDS epidemic, starting antiretroviral therapy (ART) early, can help those infected live a long, normal, and productive life. Furthermore, HIV takes many years to progress to AIDS, and this progression is significantly delayed if the individual takes their medication and adheres to their management plan. Many celebrities have been open about their HIV diagnoses, including Magic Johnson, the Los Angeles Lakers NBA star. Magic was diagnosed with HIV in 1991 and still leads an active and successful lifestyle as a basketball commentator.

Myth 3: I am not gay and I do not use drugs, so I will never contract HIV/AIDS.

The notion that HIV is a ‘gay disease’ was a common ‘truth’ when the AIDS epidemic officially began in 1981. This notion, along with ignore on how AIDS was contracted, meant many people with HIV were segregated from society and denied proper medical care. Today, although most men do become HIV positive through sexual contact with other men, 16% of men and 78% of women become HIV positive through heterosexual contact, thus debunking the myth that HIV is a ‘gay disease.’ Furthermore, although HIV is contacted through ‘needle sharing,’ heterosexual, non-drug using individuals are still at risk of contracting HIV if they do not engage in safe sex practices (i.e., condom usage).

Myth 4: If I am receiving treatment, I cannot spread HIV to others.

When an individual responds well to HIV therapy (i.e., ART), treatments can reduce the amount of HIV virus in their blood to a level so low, that it cannot be detected in a standard blood test. However, the virus has not been eradicated, and still lays dormant in the person’s system. Therefore, infected individuals are always at risk of spreading HIV to others and it is essential that they practice safe sex practise, and follow their treatment regime.

Myth 5: My partner and I are both HIV positive so we can have unprotected sex

Each person with HIV will have a different strain of the virus. Even if two people are HIV positive, practicing safe sex is imperative, as it can protect you both from becoming exposed to other strains of HIV. Furthermore, some HIV virus’ are drug resistant, and might impede on your ability to stop the progression from HIV to AIDS.

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