Every year, December 1st is recognized as World AIDS Day to increase awareness around HIV/AIDS, support those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, and celebrate the lives of those who have fallen to an AIDS-related illness. In an effort to support HIV/AIDS education, below is a list of commonly regarded myths and their true answers.
Myth: HIV and AIDS are the same thing and can be used interchangeably. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system and makes the host more vulnerable to other infections and diseases. Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) occurs only when HIV is left untreated and reaches a high viral load in the person’s body. Viral load is the amount of HIV in the blood of the person who has this virus. AIDS will not develop if HIV is treated because AIDS is a late-stage form of HIV.
Myth: HIV can be spread easily. HIV can not be spread through air, water, mosquitos, saliva, tears, sweat, shared toilets, shared dishes, drinking fountains, or touching. HIV can only be spread by people with a detectable viral load of HIV. This virus is spread only when HIV-positive blood, semen (cum), pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum), rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, or breast milk enters the bloodstream of an HIV-negative person.
Myth: Nothing can prevent the spread of HIV. Condoms are the easiest tools to use in preventing the spread of HIV. Condoms provide a physical barrier between the bodily fluids of two people engaging in penetrative sex. Another prevention method is the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is a once-daily pill for HIV-negative people to reduce their chances of contracting the virus. Condoms and PrEP can and should be used in conjunction with each other to prevent the spread of HIV, especially in at-risk populations.
Myth: Once exposed to HIV, there are no treatment options. Within 72 hours of being exposed to HIV, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) can be taken to prevent the virus from taking hold in the body. If there is a potential exposure to HIV, PEP should be taken every day for 28 days to prevent the formation of an HIV viral load. PEP can not be used to replace other HIV prevention; it is for emergency situations only. After being diagnosed with HIV, Treatment as Prevention (TasP) prevents the transmission of HIV to other people. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is a form of HIV medicine that makes the user’s HIV viral load low enough to be safe, undetectable, and therefore untransmittable to other people. ART is effective only when taken daily and as prescribed.
Myth: HIV affects all populations the same way. Gay and bisexual men are the most at-risk population for HIV infections. Racial minorities are more susceptible to contracting HIV but less likely to be diagnosed and treated. Heterosexual women are the least likely to contract HIV, but it still important for all genders and races to recognize their risk for HIV. Source: CDC, HIV Incidence: Estimated Annual Infections in the U.S., 2010-2016
Myth: HIV is no longer an issue. America is far behind in equitable access to prevention methods and treatments. 1 in 7 people who have HIV do not even know that they have the virus. Talking about HIV, recognizing and ignoring stereotypes, educating yourself and others, and speaking out to correct myths are all positive ways to decrease the stigma around this virus. For services regarding HIV health and beyond visit Unified at http://www.miunified.org/services.