World AIDS Day: Debunking myths about HIV/AIDS

HIV is one of the highest profile diseases globally, with 38.4 million infections at the end of 2021. However, many are unaware of how the disease works and how to live with it.

Stigmas about HIV still prevail, and many still hold myths surrounding its transmission and treatment. In this article, we’ll debunk some common myths about HIV, in light of World AIDS Day.

Have any questions about HIV? Consult your family doctor at My Family Clinic.

What is HIV?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which destroys white blood cells that protect us against bacteria, viruses, and other harmful microorganisms. With the white blood cells weakened or destroyed, the body is susceptible to common infections and diseases, and there is a higher risk of getting some cancers.

Read more about HIV/AIDS:

What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

HIV is the virus that causes the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

HIV can weaken one’s immune system if they do not seek effective treatment early. HIV can then progress to the most advanced stage of infection, AIDS. At this stage, the body’s immune system is totally broken down, making people with AIDS very vulnerable to opportunistic infections and diseases.

With the right treatment, people with HIV can live their lives without AIDS. Hence, HIV may not ever evolve to AIDS.

Myth 1: We don’t need to worry about HIV anymore.

While we have made significant progress in battling HIV over the past few years, we should not be complacent. There were around 38.4 million people living with HIV at the end of 2021.

Myth 2: You cannot get HIV from tattoos or body piercing.

HIV can be transmitted through blood, so there is a risk of HIV infection through shared needles or tattoo tools that were not properly sterilised between uses.

If you feel you may be at risk, getting screened for HIV is the crucial first step to knowing your HIV status.

Myth 3: Mosquitoes spread HIV.

Since HIV can be transmitted through blood, people are worried that they may get infected from bloodsucking insects like mosquitoes. However, when mosquitoes bite, they do not inject the blood of the previous person bitten. Besides, HIV only lives for a short time in them.

Read more about HIV/AIDS:

Myth 4: HIV spreads through sneezing, coughing, and the air conditioning system.

HIV is unable to survive long enough to spread through the air. When fluid leaves the body and is exposed to the air, it dries up. When it dries, the virus dies and becomes non-infectious.

Myth 5: If you are infected with HIV, you will know about it.

This is not true. The only way to know if a person has HIV is to take a test.

The symptoms of HIV may not appear for as long as 10 years or more, which means that some people may feel and look healthy, without realising that they are carrying the disease. This can cause them to unknowingly spread the virus to others through high-risk behaviours.

If you feel you may be at risk, getting screened for HIV is the crucial first step to knowing your HIV status.

Myth 6: If you are pregnant and infected with HIV, your baby will be infected.

This is false, the baby may not necessarily become infected. With treatment, the risk of passing HIV to the baby is just 0.1%. According to the director of the Center for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa, the chance of the baby getting HIV is 25-33%, without treatment.

Read about the various stages of HIV/AIDS: 

Myth 7: If you are diagnosed with HIV, you won’t live long.

This myth is untrue. With timely and effective treatment, people infected with HIV can lead normal lives.

While there is no cure for HIV, people who are HIV positive can be treated with antiretroviral therapy. With consistent treatment, the viral load can be kept low and the HIV may not develop into AIDS.

Have any questions about HIV? Consult your family doctor at My Family Clinic.

Myth 8: If I am getting treatment, I cannot spread the virus.

This is false. There is still a risk of passing the virus to a sex partner. 

While HIV treatments can lower the amount of virus in the blood to a level that does not show up in blood tests (undetectable viral load), there is a chance of passing it to a sex partner. Practice safe sex to protect you and your partner from drug-resistant strains and other sexually transmitted diseases.

In sum, HIV can be spread through contact with infected blood and from sharing needles that were not sterilised properly. It can also be spread from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. Although there is no cure for HIV, the advancements in medical treatment can control HIV effectively. By knowing how HIV is transmitted, you can better protect yourself against it.