Standing in 2016, even today AIDS/HIV is shrouded in a lot of mystery, misconceptions and myths. There is still a certain stigma attached to the disease which mainly stems from the lack of awareness about it. World AIDS Day observed globally on December 1 has done a lot to alleviate the stigma but not nearly enough. Even though AIDS still has no cure, advanced treatments are now available giving patients a longer and relatively healthier life span. Despite that, according to the World Health Organization(WHO), an estimated 36 million people have lost their lives to the disease in between 1981 and 2012 and around 35 million are living with the infection today. So AIDS is still a leading global health problem and on this World AIDS Day, let’s try to dispel some of the common misconceptions around it.
- HIV and AIDS are the same thing: Though related, HIV and AIDS are not the same thing. HIV(Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that carries the disease while AIDS(acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is the disease caused by the infection. But all HIV positive people do not actually develop AIDS. With so many therapies available now, the level of HIV infections can be controlled and a healthy immunity system maintained, thus preventing AIDS.
- AIDS is transmitted through insect bite or casual touch:HIV cannot survive on the surface so it can’t be transferred through handshakes or hugs. Sharing plates and cutlery or using the same washroom is also completely safe. When an insect like mosquito bites, it only sucks blood but does not inject the blood of the previous person it bit. HIV is also not air or water borne so it does not spread through sneezing, coughing or spitting.
- Kissing and oral sex is unsafe: Kissing and physical contact is absolutely safe as long as none of the partners have open sores or bleeding gums and their blood do not mix.
- Infected person cannot have sex: An HIV positive person can have sex without the risk of transmitting the virus by using protection. Condoms are highly effective in preventing transmission of HIV and other sexuallytransmitted infections(STIs).
- Only homosexuals are infected: This is a very common misconception regarding AIDS. Though the LGBT community makes up about 78% of the infected population, heterosexuals are 24% of the newlyinfected. Anyone having unprotected sex with multiple partners or using shared injecting equipment is at the risk of being infected with HIV.
- Two positive persons can have unprotected sex: There are different strains of HIV and your sexual partner can carry a different strain than you. If the two get mixed, it might cause resistance in the working of antiretroviral drugs and slow down the treatment.
- Transmission of HIV from mother to infant: Developments and advancements in research and treatment have gone a long way in preventing transmission from infected mother to the fetus. Antiretroviral drugs bring down the viral load considerably and passing on the virus to the baby is a one in a hundred possibility. Pregnancy also does not accelerate the growth of the virus in the mother.
Earlier, getting diagnosed with AIDS almost meant a pronounced death sentence. The disease itself was deadly and the ignorance about the condition only worsened the situation for the patients as isolation from society put an end to their normal lives. But increased awareness and better medical help have improved life expectancy and given the patients and their families a glimmer of hope.
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