Somewhere in the early 1980s, doctors in America started reporting a strange new infection that caused people’s immune systems to fail mysteriously. Thus began the history of HIV or AIDS, easily one of the most misunderstood diseases known to humankind. By 1982, the CDC coined the term ‘AIDS,’ describing it as a disease that caused a defect in the immunity system. HIV is the virus that attacks the immune system, and AIDS is an umbrella term referring to the infections a person develops due to untreated HIV. However, it wasn’t until many years later that doctors understood the intricacies of this illness or how they could combat it.
Many myths surround this illness, and lack of awareness helps perpetuate these beliefs even more. There are many misconceptions regarding how the disease originates and what it means to live with HIV. If you find yourself questioning what is fact and fiction when it comes to HIV, keep reading below. We’ll debunk some of the popular myths surrounding HIV.
Straight people can’t get HIV
One of the most prevalent myths surrounding HIV and AIDS was that it’s a disease that can only infect certain groups. Doctors found the first few incidents predominantly in gay men, which led to the misconception that straight people couldn’t get sick.
However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease. Like any other STD, it can infect you regardless of your sexual orientation. While gay men are more prone to catching the infection due to unprotected sex, straight people can also get HIV if they have sex with an infected person.
To understand the spread of HIV, it’s crucial to comprehend how STD’s and STI’s work. People often mix up STD’s and STI’s, but the two differ in the danger they pose. STI’s are infections that haven’t yet developed into full-blown diseases. You can catch these infections by exchanging bodily fluids through sexual contact or using infected needles. Because HIV is a virus, with proper treatment, you can keep it from escalating into a disease. AIDS, on the other hand, is an STD, as it is a disease that develops from an STI. Once you understand the difference between a sti vs std, you can know that anyone can get infected if they have sexual contact with an infected person.
HIV drugs are damaging
This myth stems from a now invalid truth. In the initial years, HIV drugs were indeed damaging and came with debilitating side effects. However, antiretroviral medications work not to cure the infection but to reduce the viral load. It can help keep your immune system healthy enough to fight off infections. It’s essential to stick to the prescribed doses. Otherwise, the virus can become resistant and multiply even faster.
Back in the days, adherence used to be incredibly challenging, as the medication would cause severe side effects like nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, and even nerve problems. However, the HIV drugs on the market today have much milder side effects and are easy to use. HIV treatment protocols are now a few, easy to take pills that individuals can start taking early after diagnosis. These pills are easy to integrate into a daily routine and don’t cause any of the side effects mentioned above.
HIV is a death sentence
It’s true that in the initial years of the disease’s discovery, it was challenging for researchers to develop a way to control HIV. Many HIV infections would therefore spiral into AIDS, severely impacting the patients. However, recent advances make it easy for people to prevent their HIV infection from escalating to AIDS. Regularly taking medication can help reduce the viral load to undetectable levels. Reducing viral loads can help infected individuals live a normal life without any significant complications. However, it’s essential to take regular screening tests to check and manage your viral load.
You can catch HIV through casual contact
This myth is arguably one of the most significant contributors to the stigma around the disease resulting in social discrimination. Truth be told, you can only catch HIV via specific forms of contact, such as the exchange of bodily fluids during sex or sharing needles with an infected person. Infected mothers can also transmit the virus to their children through perinatal transmission.
Casual contact, such as touching, hugging, sharing utensils, or even kissing, does not spread HIV. You can’t catch HIV by drinking an infected person’s water or through any aerial transmission. Furthermore, mosquitoes, ticks, and other parasites cannot spread HIV either. If you live with someone who is HIV positive, you can’t catch the infection through any casual contact such as touching and kissing.
Recent research, such as the Undetectable = Untransmittable campaign, shows that people with an undetectable viral load can’t transmit it sexually. Nonetheless, as long as you practice safe sex, you can protect yourself from catching HIV.
Although there is still no vaccine that successfully counters HIV, there has been significant headway in controlling the spread and finding ways to cope. With recent developments, infected individuals can live normal, unimpaired lives by sticking to their medication. However, there are still many myths surrounding this topic. It’s essential to break down these barriers to spread awareness and reduce prejudice. Furthermore, it’s necessary to create a safe atmosphere surrounding HIV discussions to encourage more people to get tested without the fear of being judged.