Since the time HIV/AIDS came to light back in the 1980s, the viral infection has been plagued with misconceptions and myths. In today's times, guidelines about HIV prevention, diagnosis, and treatment are easily available, yet some myths continue to circulate, which actually contribute to increasing the risk of HIV infection. This piece of information discusses the myths and facts that will help to debunk the misconceptions associated with HIV/AIDS.
MYTH: Getting infected with HIV means the person is affected with AIDS.
REALITY: HIV diagnosis does not always signal AIDS. AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is a condition in which the HIV infection has progressed to the advanced stage. When diagnosed in the initial stages and with the right treatment, the infection can be suppressed and prevented from reaching the final stages. So, early diagnosis is the key to prevent the infection from advancing to AIDS.
MYTH: If both partners are HIV-infected, it is not necessary to have protected sex.
REALITY: Risky sexual behaviour by HIV-infected partners will only make the ongoing treatment ineffective. HIV is of two types viz, HIV-1 and HIV-2. Also, since the virus can mutate very easily, there are numerous strains among these 2 types of HIV. This means, the partners can get reinfected with different strains of HIV, if unsafe sex practices are followed. The resulting infection from exposure to multiple strains may not respond to current treatment. Hence, to avoid any complications, it is best to have protected sex.
MYTH: Mosquitoes can spread HIV infection.
REALITY: This myth stems from the fact that HIV infection is transmitted through blood. Although HIV is a blood-borne infection, it doesn't mean that a mosquito that has bitten an HIV-infected patient will transmit the virus after it bites a healthy person.
Although this theory may appear logical, extensive research has demonstrated that transmission of HIV does not occur through mosquito bites. First of all, when a mosquito or rather any insect bites, it only sucks the victim's blood and does not introduce its own blood into the victim's body. To be more specific, the mouth parts of the mosquito are of a needle-like structure. When bitten by a mosquito, the human body is exposed only to the mosquito saliva and not the blood.
Moreover, even if the virus is present in the mosquito's body, it does not live for long. This is because mosquitoes do not have the cells that help promote proliferation of the virus. So even if the mosquito gets exposed to the virus, it cannot cause any harm to the insect and is actually digested in its body.
MYTH: Getting diagnosed with HIV infection means the end of life.
REALITY: Yes, the infection is incurable but patients can still lead a productive life, thanks to advancements in medical science. In the early 1980s, when the disease became known, patients survived only for a few years. However, today the lifespan of patients has improved tremendously. With proper care and treatment, the condition can now be managed effectively. New drugs that have been developed for treatment have substantially increased the life expectancy of HIV patients.
MYTH: Getting infected with HIV is not a concern as a new class of drugs make the condition a trivial issue.
REALITY: If considering HIV/AIDS as a death sentence is a wrong notion, then so is believing that the infection isn't serious as drugs are formulated to maintain the patient's health. Although the new drugs help to increase the lifespan of patients, one cannot forget that it is a lifelong treatment that can have various side effects, some of which are a cause for great concern. Also, every missed dose elevates the chances of drugs becoming ineffective. Moreover, the risk of virus showing resistance to the drug also exists. Yes, there have been advances in medical treatment but that shouldn't be an excuse for indulging in unsafe sexual behaviour.
MYTH: HIV transmission is not possible through oral sex.
REALITY: Getting HIV infection through oral sex is far less common but one can still contract the virus, if the infected partner has sores or cuts in the oral cavity. Although one cannot catch the virus from transfer of saliva, an open wound such as bleeding gums is a potent source of infection that can transmit HIV.
MYTH: In most cases, HIV/AIDS is associated with homosexual men.
REALITY: Plenty of studies have shown that HIV/AIDS is far more common in heterosexuals than homosexuals. So considering the infection as a gay disease is also wrong.
MYTH: People taking HIV treatment cannot spread the infection.
REALITY: While the drugs are useful in controlling the infection, the virus can still be transmitted. Anti-retroviral therapy is formulated to decrease the presence of virus in an infected person's blood but the infection is active enough to spread when indulging in risky sexual behaviour.
MYTH: People who contract HIV show the symptoms immediately.
REALITY: A person may look healthy for years despite getting the HIV infection. Studies have shown that absence of symptoms in HIV-infected people can last for up to 10 years. Moreover, HIV symptoms are not diagnostic hence the person is advised to undergo a blood test for diagnosis.
Hopefully, these facts have busted some of the myths surrounding HIV/AIDS.