Do you know how to protect yourself against HIV and AIDS? How often should you get tested for the illness? Would you know how to recognise HIV symptoms? There’s a lot of confusion surrounding HIV and AIDS, and what you need to do to protect yourself — here we separate fact from fiction
Approximately 38 million people across the world are living with the HIV virus, and around 21% of these people don’t actually know they have it.
Despite the fact that major scientific advances have made it easier than ever to prevent and treat HIV and AIDS, there’s still a lot confusion and lack of knowledge around the illness, and associated negative stigma. As today is World AIDS Day, we wanted to shine a light on some of the common myths and misconceptions around HIV and AIDS, to help educate and shift attitudes.
Here are eight myths around HIV and AIDS, the symptoms to look out for and what you can do to prevent yourself from contracting the virus.
Myth #1: “I’ve tested negative for HIV, so I can have unprotected sex”
It can take up to three months to detect whether you’ve contracted the HIV virus, so if it comes back negative and you’ve subsequently had unprotected sex, it’s advised to get tested again, three months later. To give yourself peace of mind, get tested regularly (every three months) and use condoms to protect yourself and your sexual partner.
Myth #2: “HIV is a death sentence”
With the appropriate treatment, a person living with HIV today can expect to lead a long and healthy life. It’s an easily treatable, long-term medical condition that won’t necessarily develop into the AIDS syndrome, providing the patient continues the prescribed course of ongoing treatment.
Myth #3: “HIV is a gay or LGBTQ disease”
Anyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, can contract HIV. Calling HIV a “gay” or “LGBTQ” disease is medically untrue and only serves to perpetuate harmful stereotypes about people living with HIV and members of the LGBTQ community.
Myth #4: “I’m in a monogamous relationship so I don’t need to worry about HIV”
It’s still important to get regular STI checks, even if you’re in a long-term relationship. You can’t be sure of your partner’s sexual history, so it’s better to take precautions to reduce your risk of contracting HIV or any other STIs. Practice safe sex using condoms, and get yourself checked regularly. Talk to your partner about your sexual health practices, and theirs too. You might want to get tested together for HIV and other STIs, for peace of mind.
Myth #5: “I can’t have sex with someone with HIV”
HIV is a virus that’s carried in blood, semen, and vaginal fluids, so providing you don’t have unprotected sex, there’s a very low risk of contracting the virus. There are various ways you can protect yourself from HIV, along with other STIs.
- Use condoms
- Use water-based or silicone-based lubricants to prevent tears in the skin and to keep condoms from breaking
- Get regular STI check-ups with your doctor
- Get the correct treatment for your STI —having an active STI, or even a history of certain STIs, can increase your chances of transmitting HIV
- Talk to your partners about the last time they got tested for HIV and other STIs — you may want to consider getting tested together
Myth #6: “You can’t get HIV from oral sex”
Even though the likelihood of contracting HIV through oral sex is low, it’s still possible to transmit the virus if you have oral sex. The chances are higher if there are cuts or ulcers on the mouth or gums. Using a barrier like a condom or dental dam during oral sex can further reduce the risk of transmitting HIV and other STIs.
Myth #7: “HIV symptoms are obvious”
Some people have HIV for years before they know they have it, so it can often go unnoticed and undiagnosed. One of the first symptoms of HIV is a fever, accompanied by other mild symptoms, such as fatigue, swollen lymph glands and a sore throat. The symptoms are very similar to the flu, so it might not be that obvious you could have contracted the virus. If you’ve had unprotected sex, we advise to get an STI check to rule out the possibility. With early detection, HIV is a manageable health condition, but if it’s left untreated, there is a risk it can progress to the stage 3 AIDS syndrome.
Myth #8 “HIV always leads to AIDS”
HIV is the infection that causes AIDS, but that does’t mean that everyone diagnosed as HIV-positive will develop AIDS. HIV is a virus. After 10 to 15 years, it can severely weaken your immune system and advance to AIDS if you don’t get treatment with antiretroviral drugs. Providing you continue with the correct course of treatment, the HIV virus can be managed and controlled, and will not develop into AIDS.
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