HIV - AIDS : Top 10 Myths

Given the inadequate knowledge and widespread misconceptions about this infection, HIV positive people have been subjected to discrimination in personal and professional settings. Several myths surround this disease. There is a huge need for informing people about what is true about HIV and what isn’t. We take this opportunity to shed light on some common misconceptions regarding this disease.

Myth 1:

A common myth is that HIV is the same as AIDS. This is far from true. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Testing positive for HIV means that the virus is detectable in your blood. This virus is known to cause AIDS or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. AIDS is a condition which is said to occur when the level of CD4 T cells (a kind of blood cells in the body) in the body falls below 200cells/mm³.

Myth 2:

A lot of people think that they can tell by looking if someone is HIV positive. Rather, testing for HIV is the only way of really telling whether a person is HIV positive or not. HIV positive individuals may look and feel healthy just like you.

Myth 3:

Most people think they can get infected with the virus if they are surrounded by HIV positive people. This leads to a lot of discrimination in personal and professional fronts. Rather, as the HIV is present in the blood, saliva and vaginal fluids, it can spread only by unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected individual, receiving infected blood and blood products, unsterilized tattoo and piercing tools and from mother to child if the mother does not receive appropriate therapy.

Myth 4:

A lot of people think that HIV can be transmitted by bloodsucking mosquitoes.This belief comes from the misconception that mosquitoes inject blood into the person they bite. But, contrary to popular belief, mosquitoes do not inject blood into the person they have bitten. Thus, they do not transmit HIV.

Myth 5:

Another popular myth is that HIV also spreads by hugging or kissing people who are HIV positive. This is not true as the virus is actually present only in the vaginal fluids, blood and saliva and thus can be transmitted by unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected individual, receiving infected blood and blood products, unsterilized tattoo and piercing tools and from mother to child if the mother does not receive appropriate therapy.

Myth 6:

When we speak about unprotected sexual intercourse, many people believe that condoms are not 100% effective in preventing the transmission of the virus. Nothing could be further from the truth.Condoms are 99% effective in preventing the transmission of HIV. The remaining 1% occurs due to human error. Further, contrary to popular belief, oral sex can also transmit the virus.Thus, it is also advisable to use a condom during such acts.

Myth 7:

A lot of HIV positive couples think that they don’t need to use condoms during sexual intercourse since both of them are already infected.However,condoms do need to be used by HIV positive couples.This not helps prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases but also helps prevent the transmission of a drug resistant strain from 1 partner to another.

Myth 8:

Additionally, it is a popular belief that HIV positive mothers cannot have babies as they would definitely transmit the infection to their children. However, with the currently available treatment, the risk of transmission from mother to child is only 2%.There are several measures that the expecting mother needs to take. Firstly, she needs to inform her healthcare provider about her HIV status so that appropriate therapy can be instituted in the antenatal period. Secondly, a caesarean section is preferable in these women as the chances of transmission to the baby are very high during a vaginal delivery. Lastly, the mother needs to avoid breastfeeding her child as the virus has been found to pass through milk.

Myth 9:

A popular myth is that tests for HIV become positive as soon as a person is infected with HIV. This is not true as the most commonly used tests for HIV detect substances called “antibodies” in the blood. The ELISA antibody test is amongst the most commonly used tests today. It takes about 6­12 weeks for these antibodies to become detectable by these tests. This period, between exposure to detection of antibodies, is called the window period. It is important to remember that people are still infectious during this period and thus appropriate preventive measures need to be used.

Myth 10:

Additionally, a lot of people fear getting tested for HIV as they think the physician will tell their family or boss about the fact that they got tested or tested positive.HIV testing is a sensitive issue and one associated with long term implications for both the individual and his/her family. Thus, all aspects related to the test, the identity of the individual and the test results are kept absolutely confidential.

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