AIDS: Myths & Facts

Dr. Shuchin Bajaj

Despite extensive research over a period of two decades, people still hold many misconceptions about HIV and AIDS. Some of these are discussed below.

Myth 1: You cannot get a test for HIV until six months after exposure.

Fact 1: Tests for HIV are now available as soon as four weeks after exposure. These tests look for they HIV antigen as well as the antibody. They are known as Duo tests.

Myth 2: HIV can penetrate through condoms.

Fact 2: This common myth is absolutely wrong. Condoms are the best method of protection against HIV as well as other STDs. If worn during every act of sexual intercourse as well as oral sex, you will not get HIV. If the condoms tear, then a medication is available that if taken within 24 hours can help prevent getting HIV infection.

Myth 3: You cannot get HIV if you are the ‘top’ (the insertive partner) in anal intercourse.

Fact 3: HIV is also contained in the anal mucosa. So any form of insertion of penis into the partner can transfer the virus.

Myth 4: If you are HIV positive, you will definitely die from AIDS at a very young age.

Fact 4: People diagnosed early can be given medication to effectively reduce the viral load (amount of virus) in their bodies, such that they can live relatively normal lives.

Myth 5: People with HIV cannot have children.

Fact 5: People with HIV can have children. However, due to certain risk of passing on the infection to the baby, certain methods can be followed. If the man has HIV infection, a procedure called ‘sperm washing’ can be done. It separates the genetic material from the semen. In vitro fertilization is then used to impregnate the woman. If the woman is HIV infected, she can take HIV medication during her pregnancy, have a Caesarian section for delivery and feed the baby with formula.

Myth 6: If you touch HIV-positive blood, you will also get HIV.

Fact 6: In order for HIV to be transmitted by blood from one person to another, a significant amount of the virus must reach the other person’s bloodstream. By just touching, the infection cannot be transferred, because skin is a very effective barrier. Only by sharing injected needles with an HIV-positive person or by transferring blood through an open wound can the infection be transferred.

Myth 7: You can get HIV from kissing or from sharing glasses, forks, spoons or other utensils.

Fact 7: HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva.

Myth 8: Only gay men can get HIV.

Fact 8: This is absolutely wrong. Anyone with multiple sex partners is at a higher risk of getting HIV infection. Fifty percent of HIV positive people worldwide are women.

Myth 9: HIV and AIDS are the same thing.

Fact 9: HIV and AIDS are different. HIV, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is the virus that can cause AIDS, Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome.

Myth 10: You can get HIV from snorting drugs.

Fact 10: You need a large amount of blood for HIV transmission because the virus is fairly weak. However, snorting drugs puts you at risk of infection from Hepatitis C and other blood-borne viruses.

To date, there is no vaccine to prevent against HIV infection. Thus, it becomes even more important to protect yourself from HIV virus by a few simple measures.

HIV can be transmitted in three main ways:

  • Sexual transmission
  • Transmission through blood
  • Mother-to-child transmission

On this World AIDS Day, the theme is “Getting to zero: zero new HIV infection, zero discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths”. To achieve this, it is essential to educate yourself about HIV and avoid any behavior that allows HIV infected fluids—blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk—into your body.

  • Use a new condom every time you have sex. If you don’t know the HIV status of your partner, then use a condom every time you have anal or vaginal sex.
  • Make sure that you use a clean, sterile needle to inject drugs, and do not share needles.
  • If you are HIV-positive and get pregnant, you may pass the infection to your baby, so it is essential to inform your doctor about your pregnancy to keep the baby healthy.
  • Male circumcision can help reduce a man’s risk of acquiring HIV.

*Dr. Shuchin Bajaj, Physician based in New Delhi, India

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