HIV myths de­bunked

Lesotho Times - - Health -

HIV/AIDS is one of the high­est pro­file dis­eases of our times, but many of us are still ig­no­rant about key aspects of the ill­ness, how it works and how to live with it.

HIV has killed an es­ti­mated 39 mil­lion peo­ple to date, but mak­ing it more dan­ger­ous are the mis­un­der­stand­ings and stig­mas that sur­round it. We asked ex­perts to de­bunk some of the most preva­lent and dam­ag­ing myths about HIV. This is what they said.

Myth: If you are in­fected with HIV,

you’ll know about it. It can take many years for symp­toms of HIV to show up, which means you could be car­ry­ing the dis­ease for a long time with­out ex­pe­ri­enc­ing any warn­ing signs.

“In the av­er­age adult it takes be­tween eight to 10 years for some­one who is HIV pos­i­tive to show signs that they’re in­fected and ill, so it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble for peo­ple to tell if some­one has HIV early on,” says Owen Ryan, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional AIDS So­ci­ety.

This means it’s ex­tremely im­por­tant to be checked for the virus if you are sex­u­ally ac­tive. And of course, us­ing a con­dom cor­rectly ev­ery time you have sex can greatly re­duce the chance of be­com­ing in­fected.

Myth: If you have HIV you don’t need to start drug ther­apy un­til you get very

sick. The WHO rec­om­mends that peo­ple who are newly in­fected start treat­ment early on to pro­tect their im­mune sys­tem. The treat­ment in­volves an­tiretro­vi­ral ther­apy (ART), which means tak­ing drugs ev­ery day to sup­press the virus in your body.

“There is a dra­matic im­pact on a per­son’s health and well-be­ing through­out their life if they start HIV treat­ment im­me­di­ately,” ex­plains Ryan.

“And it’s not just for them, it’s for their fam­i­lies and part­ners as well. Peo­ple who are on HIV treat­ment who are re­spond­ing well to treat­ment, they are 96 per­cent less likely to pass on HIV to their part­ners.”

Myth: We don’t need to worry about HIV

any­more. Just be­cause we have made huge leaps in bat­tling HIV over the past few decades, it doesn’t mean we should be­come com­pla­cent, ar­gues Ryan.

“I think the big­gest myth is that HIV is no longer a prob­lem,” he says. “What I find a lot in my job is that a lot of peo­ple think that HIV is a prob­lem of 10 years ago. I don’t think peo­ple know that there were 1.2 mil­lion deaths to AIDS in 2014. If more peo­ple knew that they’d be shocked. Six hun­dred chil­dren a day are in­fected with HIV; that’s just an out­ra­geous statis­tic. I think we’ve moved into a pe­riod of ap­a­thy which we re­ally have to push against. So the big myth that HIV is over is far from true.”

Myth: If you are preg­nant and HIV pos­i­tive your baby will al­ways be in­fected. If a preg­nant woman is HIV pos­i­tive the baby will not nec­es­sar­ily be­come in­fected. Even with­out treat­ment the chance of the baby ac­quir­ing the dis­ease is about 25-33 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to pro­fes­sor Salim Ab­dool Karim, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for the AIDS Pro­gram of Re­search in South Africa (CAPRISA).

But this risk can be sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced with PREP (Pre Ex­po­sure Pro­phy­laxis), which in­volves giv­ing an­tiretro­vi­ral drugs to HIV neg­a­tive peo­ple that are at risk of be­com­ing in­fected.

“We can pro­vide an­tiretro­vi­ral drugs to pro­tect and pre­vent mother to child trans­mis­sion, such that the trans­mis­sion rate is now below 1 per­cent,” Karim ex­plains.

Aside from PREP, it’s also pos­si­ble to wash sperm for ar­ti­fi­cial in­sem­i­na­tion. HIV is car­ried in the fluid around the sperm (rather than by the sperm it­self) which means it can be re­moved be­fore the fe­male part­ner is in­sem­i­nated. But while this may be a highly safe method, it’s not with­out its costs.

“It’s not done very of­ten th­ese days,” says Karim. “It’s not a cheap process be­cause it in­volves many steps and it also in­volves ar­ti­fi­cial in­sem­i­na­tion, which is quite ex­pen­sive.”

Sperm wash­ing can greatly re­duce the risk of in­fec­tion, but does not guar­an­tee it.

Myth: You can’t get HIV from tat­toos or

body pierc­ing. HIV can be trans­mit­ted through blood, which means you could get in­fected by shared nee­dles, or tat­too and pierc­ing tools that haven’t been ster­il­ized prop­erly be­tween uses. The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion (CDC) says that tools that cut the skin should be used once, then thrown away or ster­il­ized.

“For places where tat­toos or pierc­ings are un­reg­u­lated, or where they’re hap­pen­ing in set­tings that are open to in­fec­tions, then of course there’s go­ing to be a risk there,” says Ryan.

“It comes down to a ba­sic rule. Any­where where you’re shar­ing some­thing that has come into con­tact with blood and hasn’t been cleaned, you are at risk of HIV in­fec­tion.”

Myth: HIV is a death sen­tence. There is no cure for HIV. There is also no vac­cine for the dis­ease. How­ever, the qual­ity of drugs has de­vel­oped sig­nif­i­cantly over time.

Peo­ple can now re­duce their vi­ral load (amount of HIV in the blood) to un­de­tectable lev­els us­ing ART. This means that the in­fec­tion stops pro­gress­ing as quickly, pro­tect­ing the im­mune sys­tem from the dis­ease.

“Most pa­tients, well over 95 per­cent, even up to 99 per­cent of pa­tients on ther­apy should have lit­tle dif­fi­culty in lead­ing a nor­mal life, and carry no con­cern about mor­tal­ity pro­vided they take their treat­ment prop­erly,” says Karim.

Myth: HIV is the same as AIDS. HIV is the virus that leads to AIDS. But, with the right treat­ment, HIV pos­i­tive peo­ple can live their en­tire lives with­out get­ting AIDS, which is the fi­nal stage of the dis­ease when the body’s im­mune sys­tem is se­verely dam­aged. As My­ron Co­hen, the di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Global Health and In­fec­tious Dis­eases at the Univer­sity of North Carolina ex­plains, hav­ing HIV is very dif­fer­ent from hav­ing AIDS.

“The de­tec­tion of the virus has al­most very lit­tle to do with AIDS as long as the repli­ca­tion of HIV is stopped. So HIV does not (al­ways) and should not ever evolve to AIDS.

“In the early days be­fore we knew HIV was the cause of this in­fec­tion, and be­fore we had treat­ment, the hos­pi­tal was filled with peo­ple who had AIDS. Now, in our thou­sand plus bed hos­pi­tal it’s weird if we have any­one with AIDS ad­mit­ted, it’s a rare ad­mis­sion.

“We would pre­fer never to see AIDS again. HIV is the cause of AIDS but it doesn’t need ever to evolve to AIDS.” — CNN

Early treat­ment means peo­ple with HIV can live long, healthy lives.

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