One of the major ways we can deal with HIV and awareness is by tackling the myths that surround HIV. The perpetuation of these beliefs not only causes fear and stigma, it could also be dangerous to health. Understanding the truths behind these myths can help go some way to advancing the wellbeing of those living with HIV.
Myth #1: I can catch HIV by sharing a cup with or being around someone with HIV
HIV isn’t spread through touch, tears, saliva or sweat. It cannot be caught by using the same eating utensils, shaking hands or breathing in the same air. HIV is passed on from person to person if infected body fluids (such as blood, semen, vaginal or anal secretions and breast milk) get into your bloodstream. This means that HIV can be spread through unsafe sex or by using contaminated needles.
Myth #2: HIV is a death- sentence
In the initial days of the epidemic (the 1980s and early 1990s), the death rate was extremely high as little was known about how to treat those living with HIV and AIDS. However, researchers have studied transmission extensively and drugs (and healthy living) have ensured that now those living with HIV can live long and worthwhile lives. Early diagnosis is important as the longer HIV goes undetected, the more damage it can do to the body.
Myth #3: Straight people don’t get HIV
Even though gay men have traditionally been affected by HIV as a group, most people living with HIV worldwide are heterosexual. About 1 in 6 men and 3 in 4 women do get the virus through heterosexual contact. Any person who has unprotected sex or shares needles puts themselves at threat of HIV. Risk does not categorise.
Myth #4: I can tell whether someone has HIV just by looking at them
Someone may have HIV for years and not show any visible symptoms. These first symptoms are similar to the flu or mononucleosis and may include fever, fatigue, rash, and sore throat. They usually disappear after a few weeks and you may not have symptoms again for several years, however symptoms of HIV can vary from person to person. The only way to know for sure is to be tested.
Myth #5: Women who have HIV cannot– and should not- have babies
It is now possible and safe for a HIV- positive woman to give birth to a healthy child. Advances in HIV treatment have greatly lowered the chances that a mother will pass on HIV to her baby and there are ways to reduce the risk. If the mother takes HIV drugs as prescribed and is virally suppressed, the chances of spreading HIV to the baby can be less than one in 100 (according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Myth #6: I am safe as I am married or in a monogamous relationship
If your partner is living with HIV, if they are having sex outside the relationship or if they are injecting drugs or using needles or equipment, than you are under threat of getting HIV. Remember that HIV- positive people do not always look sick.