Browse all

AIDS and HIV: prevention, data, beliefs and false myths to dispel

On the occasion of World AIDS Day, let's refresh our memories

AIDS and HIV: prevention, data, beliefs and false myths to dispel On the occasion of World AIDS Day, let's refresh our memories

Today, December 1, 2023, is World AIDS Day. Established in 1988 by the World Health Organization (WHO), its main goal is to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, fight the stigma associated with the disease, and commemorate those who have died due to the virus. Despite numerous public figures advocating for awareness (such as Lady Diana or Madonna), many incorrect or outdated pieces of information, myths, and prevention advice based more on popular belief than reality still circulate.

History and Current Impact

The first cases of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) appeared in the United States in 1981, sparking an epidemic that particularly affected the LGBTQ+ community in major cities from Los Angeles to New York. The HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) causing the syndrome was identified and isolated between 1983 and 1984 by a research team spanning France and the United States. Since then, AIDS has spread globally, becoming one of the most devastating epidemics in contemporary history. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 85 million people have been infected since the epidemic's onset, with 40 million not surviving. As of the end of 2022, 39 million people were living with the virus. Africa is the most affected continent, with 1 in 25 people (3.2%). The identification of the virus laid the groundwork for understanding its origin, transmission, and management.

How HIV Spreads: Beliefs and Myths

Even today, HIV is sometimes treated as a condition that isolates and stigmatizes. In reality, the virus has very specific transmission methods that, when kept in mind, can contribute to prevention. For example, HIV cannot be transmitted through casual contact like hugs, handshakes, using common toilets, or sharing personal items. The origin of HIV is not from insect or mosquito bites; it exclusively lives in the human body and cannot survive in any other organism. Contamination through food or water is impossible as it doesn't survive long outside the human body. It does not spread through saliva or sweat unless there are open wounds or lesions on the lips, in the mouth, or on the body. However, it is transmissible through sexual intercourse (including oral sex if there are cuts or ulcers, even very small, caused by flossing or similar), breastfeeding, and any activity involving needle or blood sharing. HIV/AIDS has always been wrapped in misconceptions. Help erase the stigma by learning the truth about it! #adulting #learningisfun #fyp Lazy Sunday - Official Sound Studio

Biases and Death Sentences

For all these reasons and specificities, it is incorrect, harmful, and extremely homophobic to treat AIDS as if it were exclusive to the LGBTQ+ community. Considering it tied to certain communities perpetuates further biases and false beliefs, putting people at risk. Lastly, let's dispel the most significant myth of all: HIV is not a death sentence. Since the 1980s, science and medicine have made giant strides in making a chronic condition manageable. Antiretroviral therapy, for example, allows individuals to live healthily and even long, provided the therapy is consistently maintained. These drugs also greatly reduce viral load, making transmission more challenging. The problem, to date, is that they are not accessible to everyone.

@zachwillmore Like don’t you think I already feel like that every single day? #hiv #viral Originalton - Delicious_audios

Prevention is Key

Prevention is the most powerful tool we have to contain and perhaps even eradicate HIV. Education and awareness campaigns targeting schools and communities can work wonders in preventing the virus from spreading by providing clear and accessible information on potential risks and good practices. Primarily, these precautions concern the sexual sphere. Proper and consistent condom use during intercourse significantly reduces the risk of HIV transmission (and other sexually transmitted infections, for that matter). Also, needle or syringe sharing must be avoided at all costs. It is recommended to undergo regular HIV testing, even if leading a low-risk life or in a monogamous relationship. If at risk, consider PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) to prevent infection. Advocating for accessible treatment for everyone can also be a form of prevention, as seen in organizations like RED, aiming to bridge the gap between the rich and poor parts of the world, from medicines onward.

@coutureinclinic HIV long term survivor awareness day #hiv #hivaidsawareness #hivtiktok original sound - Asia Sullivan, PA-C, MPH

Talking Makes Things Less Frightening

At the core of all these tips and advice is communication. Whether between partners, drug users, those infected with the virus, those feeling at risk but testing negative, and especially among healthy individuals. Talking about the virus, its transmission methods, sexual hygiene practices, and drug use can be a significant step in control and perhaps even the elimination of the disease. One step at a time.