Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that directly attacks the immune system. While there are viruses like adenovirus or coronavirus (responsible for fever, common cold, throat and nose infections) that don’t stay in the body for long, the same is not true for HIV. Once infected with this disease, a person has no choice but to live with effects of the infection throughout his/her life.
According to a 2016 report released by the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) and a 2015 India HIV Estimation report, the prevalence of adult HIV in India was recorded at 0.30 per cent in men in 2015. HIV continues to be a serious stigma in our society even though multiple awareness campaigns are being launched to make people more compassionate towards the victims. At the same time, there are campaigns around how to prevent the infection in the first place. Here we bust some common and some uncommon myths surrounding HIV and its transmission:
Myth #1: HIV is a death sentence
This is isn’t completely true. Back in 1980s, limited knowledge of HIV led people to believe that the affected person would die soon. This belief was strong because a lot of early deaths were witnessed due to the absence of effective medication for treating the diagnosed patients. However, modern medicine has brought about a huge change in the way HIV cases are handled. “Stick to your treatment and take good care of your body. This can help you live a long life, even with HIV,” says Dr. Sharmila Majumdar, Director and Chief Sexologist, Avis Hospital, Hyderabad. In other words, if you’re consistent in following your prescribed treatment regimen, you can effectively prolong your life span.
Myth #2: HIV cannot be transmitted through oral sex
This is a very widespread misconception related to HIV. It is transmitted when infected sexual fluids or blood enter the bloodstream of an HIV negative person. This can happen both during sexual intercourse and during oral sex. In the latter, transmission is possible if the mouth, gums and/or throat of the person giving oral sex has cuts and sores or is inflamed or infected.” To avoid the risk, it is advisable to use a polyurethane condom for any sexual activity, including oral sex. These are effective in providing protection against all kinds of sexually transmitted infections,” says Dr. Sharmila.
Myth #3: HIV can spread through non-sexual physical contact
Hugging, handshakes, sharing toilet seats or mosquito bites will not lead to the transmission of the HIV virus. In other words, it cannot spread through just any physical contact. But in the event that a person has an open wound that comes into contact with the body fluids of an HIV positive person, transmission is possible. “Also, viruses cannot survive in insects; so HIV cannot be passed on through mosquito bites,” says Dr. Sharmila.
Myth #4: Straight people do not get HIV
HIV will not knock at your door to ask whether you are heterosexual or homosexual. “Anyone who has unsafe sex, multiple partners and/or does not follow safety precautions is at a high risk to contract HIV, regardless of his or her sexuality. If you are sharing needles or injection equipment (for e.g. when getting tattoos or insulin injections), you are putting yourself at a risk of HIV virus transmission,” says Dr Sharmila.
Myth #5: HIV is transmitted through the sperm, which means an infected man can produce an HIV positive baby
It is true that HIV is found in body fluids and this includes a man’s sperm. “But the risk of a baby getting the infection is only directly related to the HIV status of the mother, not the father,” informs Dr. Sharmila. The baby normally gets infected at the time of birth or breast feeding. HIV infected father cannot directly infect the baby. But if the mother gets infected during conception then there is a risk of transmission to the baby.
It’s best to consult a doctor if you have doubts about the transmission of HIV, rather than believe stories narrated by those who are themselves not fully aware about how the disease spreads. Also, practicing safe intercourse and taking precautions with needle use are critical prevention measures.