Fear. The common feeling associated with hearing the words “AIDS” or “HIV”. For people living with HIV or AIDS, the fear is of the incurable disease in their bodies. For others, the fear is associated with the person themselves.
Unfortunately, there is a strong social stigma attached to those living with HIV or AIDS in our society. Shame, fear of rejection and guilt sometimes prevents these people from reaching out to others for support, both physically and emotionally. Many of us do not fully understand what HIV and AIDS are, and our fear stems from this lack of awareness and education.
The theme for 2019’s World AIDS Day is “Communities Make the Difference”. This highlights the community’s importance in reaching, helping and supporting people living with HIV and AIDS. Today, we explore some common misconceptions about AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) and HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus).
Misconception About AIDS And HIV #1
Having HIV Means You Have AIDS
Misconception About AIDS And HIV #2
You can get HIV by sharing food and drinks with a person living with HIV
False! HIV is not transmitted through saliva. HIV cannot be transmitted by:
- Hugging, touching or close-mouthed kissing
- Sneezing or coughing
- Insect or mosquito bites
- Contact via objects such as shared food or toilet seats (HIV does not survive for long on surfaces outside the human body, and it cannot reproduce outside a human host)
- Saliva, tears, or sweat that is not mixed with the blood of an HIV-positive person
Misconception About AIDS And HIV #3
HIV is transmitted only through sexual intercourse
False! It is most commonly transmitted through the act of unprotected sex with a person with HIV, but it can also be transmitted:
- By sharing injection needles or piercing instruments (e.g. tattoo guns or acupuncture needles) with a person with HIV
- By receiving infected blood or blood products (e.g. blood transfusion, organ transplant)
- From a mother to her child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding
Misconception About AIDS And HIV #4
HIV can be cured with medications
Misconception About AIDS And HIV #5
I have a strong immune system. My body can fight off HIV!
False! Anyone can get HIV. The virus can be passed on to anyone via the mentioned transmission methods, even for healthy individuals.
Misconception About AIDS And HIV #6
You can tell by looking at someone if they are living with HIV
False! Some people don’t show signs of HIV for years after being infected. However, many can have some symptoms within 10 days to a few weeks after infection. Initially, a person living with HIV may present with normal flu like symptoms, including fever, swollen lymph nodes, a sore throat, rash, and muscle aches. Thereafter, symptoms usually disappear and might not show for several years, especially if they are on medications. A blood test is the only way to tell if a person has HIV.
Action For Aids Singapore offers Anonymous Testing Services for those who need them. You can find more information here (https://afa.org.sg/whatwedo/support/ats/)
Misconception About AIDS And HIV #7
Sex is safe if both parties have HIV
False! Protection when having sex is still vital when both parties have HIV. Using a condom or other latex barrier protects from other sexually transmitted diseases as well as other strains of HIV, which may be resistant to anti-HIV medication. Furthermore, it is clear that co-infections with multiple HIV strains can and do occur, and such events may worsen a previously stable infection. A growing number of new infections are drug resistant upon first presentation, suggesting that these infections were transmitted from individuals receiving therapy.
Misconception About AIDS And HIV #8
A HIV-positive mother will definitely have a baby who is also HIV-positive
False! Mothers living with HIV can pass HIV to their babies during pregnancy or delivery. However, the risk is lowered significantly with the use of anti-HIV medications and other strategies. In the United States and Europe, these have helped to lower the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV to 1% or less. The risk of transmission is low when:
- HIV is detected before pregnancy or as early as possible during pregnancy.
- Women with HIV receive anti-HIV medicines during pregnancy and childbirth and, in certain situations, have a scheduled caesarean delivery (sometimes called a C-section).
- Babies born to women with HIV receive anti-HIV medicines for 4 to 6 weeks after birth and are not breastfed.
People living with HIV are as much a part of our society as we are. Our role as a community is to spread awareness instead of fear, show compassion instead of judgement, and replace isolation with acceptance.
To learn more about Singapore initiatives that support people with HIV, you can check there is Action for Aids Singapore which also gives details about the Anonymous Testing Service available for HIV.