In order to fight the stigma that surrounds HIV people first need to understand HIV – only through understanding can people begin to accept something.
There are a lot of stories and myths circulating out there and people have a tendency to believe what they read, which is even more dangerous in the age of the internet, where an uninformed decision can be taken as fact. So I’ve compiled a short list of the myths I’ve come across in the hope that I can dispel them. Please share this article – via twitter, via facebook, via carrier pigeon – and let’s get the truth out there.
- I can get HIV from touching a HIV+ person.
No – you cannot. You also cannot get HIV by: kissing a HIV+, using the same toilet seat, sharing cutlery or cups, or having a HIV+ sneeze/cough on you. HIV is spread via blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk.
- I can get HIV from animals or insects
No – you cannot. HIV stands for Human Immunodefficiency Virus and is only carried by humans, you cannot get HIV from an animal or insect bite – even mosquitoes.
- HIV is a gay disease
Wrong again. HIV doesn’t discriminate, it infects anyone regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race or religion. In fact in 2010 out of 69,400 people (confirmed diagnosed cases) living with HIV in the UK only 29,800 (which is 42.9%) were gay/bisexual men, which leaves 57.1% of the diagnoses firmly in the heterosexual camp*.
- You can tell when someone has HIV.
Unless you’re a trained virologist with a blood sample you cannot tell whether someone has HIV. There aren’t any visable signs, many people (like myself) won’t experience any symptoms of infection. The only way to know for sure is to ask them, and that’s only as good as their last test results.
- HIV and AIDS are two different diseases.
Incorrect. HIV is the culprit in both cases. HIV is a virus. AIDS is a condition. When someone is infected with HIV they are said to be HIV+ (or HIV Positive). AIDS (Acquired Immune Defficency Syndrome) occurs when a person’s immune system (or CD4 count) drops below a certain level, and it it is easier for opportune infections to take hold. A person suffering from AIDS can come out of AIDS with proper treatment and care. Many organisations, especially in the UK, no longer use the term AIDS but choose to use ‘Late stage HIV infection’ or ‘Advanced HIV infection’.
Ciao for now,
*Figures from the Health Protection Agency Report: HIV in the United Kingdom: 2011 Report (http://www.hpa.org.uk/webc/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1317131685847)