HIV/AIDS Misconceptions & Myths

MYTH #1: You can get HIV/AIDS by just being around with those infected.

FACT: HIV cannot be spread through touch, tears, sweat, or saliva. For example, sharing eating utensils, gym equipment, a water bottle with an HIV-positive person will not make you contract the disease. You can only be infected through blood, semen, vaginal fluid, or mother’s milk.

MYTH #2: Being diagnosed with HIV means your life is over.

FACT: With correct and consistent treatment, you can live a normal and healthy life. If you take your medicine and regularly consult with your doctor you are able to live with the infection. Your life is not over if you are HIV-positive.

MYTH #3: You can tell if your partner is HIV-positive.

FACT: Most symptoms don’t show for years. There is no way to know someone has HIV unless they get tested.

MYTH #4: You can’t contract HIV from oral sex.

FACT: While oral sex does prove to be less risky than vaginal or anal sex, it is still a possibility to be infected with the virus. It’s best to use a latex barrier during oral sex to ensure you’re protected.

MYTH #5: If you’re straight and don’t do IV drugs, you won’t get HIV.

FACT: Anyone who doesn’t practice safe sex can get HIV. About 16% of men and 78% of women become HIV-positive through heterosexual contact.

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What’s the deal with PrEP?

PrEP, short for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, is a pill that can be taken everyday to prevent the infection of HIV. When combined with the use of condoms it can be a very effective way to protect yourself against HIV when taken consistently. It works by impacting the virus’ ability to establish itself in the body.

It isn’t a pill meant for everyone though, it’s recommended for those who are HIV-negative (someone who has tested negative in a blood test for HIV), or those who are at a high-risk for infection. This includes those who are in a relationship with someone who is HIV-positive, has shared needles within the past six months, or is not in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who recently tested HIV-negative.

For those who have taken PrEP correctly and regularly, the risk of getting infected with HIV can be up to 92%. Clinical studies of the drug also show that it has had minimal side effects on its users, individuals who have taken it report that they had a loss of appetite or an upset stomach but were mild and went away after the first month. Although PrEP isn’t currently licensed in Australia, check out this site to see the ways you can obtain it.

To see if PrEP is right for you, take this quick survey to see if you should take it.

HIV Testing

So what actually happens during an HIV test? Here’s a quick lowdown of an HIV test.

What the test looks for: The test aims to detect antibodies to HIV in a person’s blood or saliva. When one is infected with HIV, their body creates specific antibodies to fight the infection. If one has HIV antibodies then they have been infected with HIV.

The window period: This is a term that refers to the time it takes a person’s body to produce HIV antibodies once they have been exposed to the virus. For 97% of these people, the window period can last between 2 to 12 weeks, in others it could take up to six months but these are very rare cases. If you are worried you have been infected with HIV after unprotected sex a good strategy would be to get tested 3 months after this exposure. However, if you are showing signs of infection and have been exposed to HIV, then you should see your healthcare provider straightaway.

What happens before: Many tests begin with a questionnaire to find out more about you and your background, such as your ethnicity, sexual orientation, sexual activity, and substance use, and whether you have ever had an HIV test before.

What happens during: Most testing sites use a blood test to detect HIV. Others may use a test called OraSure, which is a probe that looks like a toothbrush and is put inside your mouth between your cheek and gums for around 4 minutes.

What happens after: Results from the test usually take 1 to 2 weeks. At the following appointment, you will meet with your healthcare provider who gives your results and answers any questions you may have. If your results are positive, the test site will give your referrals for physical and mental health care, along with any other services you may need. If your results are negative, the staff will discuss how to protect yourself against HIV in the future.

Rapid HIV Test: A Rapid HIV Test is when a clinic member will prick your finger with a needle to obtain a few drops of your blood. These results will be available in less than 30 minutes.

Why You Should Use Condoms

Image Source: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/nov/21/bill-gates-scientists-better-condoms-graphene

5. Easy access 

Condoms are available in convenience stores, pharmacies, and even supermarkets. They don’t require any prescription, are affordable and are only required when you are going to have intercourse unlike other birth control methods such as the pill which require a daily dose.

4. Less or technically no side effects 

Compared to other birth control methods, condoms have less side effects. Any side effects would usually focus on the skin but if you used a condom properly the side effects are rare. It would not disturb the woman’s reproductive system at all. If you or your partner are allergic to latex make sure you use a polyurethane (plastic) condom.

3. Can boost sexual pleasure

Condoms have a very bad rep and are known to reduce sexual pleasure but it has been reported that people who are used to using them actually experience the same amount or even more pleasure than those who don’t. The belief that condoms reduce sexual pleasure plays a lot into why men feel like sex just doesn’t feel as good as going bareback. Men who say there is a difference report that it is a minor one and only decreases sensation by a bit, women feel almost no difference at all.

2. Prevents unplanned pregnancies 

Condoms have a 98% success rate in preventing any unexpected pregnancies between you and your partner.

1. Protects you from infections 

HIV is most commonly spread through unprotected sex. Using condoms will reduce that risk greatly. It also protects you from other sexually transmitted infections. Remember that there is no way to tell whether someone has an STI or not, especially HIV, so always use condoms even if they say they are clean. Condoms are the most effective method at preventing the transmission of STIs.

HIV/AIDS Treatments

The cure for AIDS is still a work in progress and there is no medication that will clear the entire infection. However, if you have been diagnosed with it there are still treatments that will ensure you live a long and healthy life.

Why should you get treatment? 

If you are HIV positive, its essential to start treatment as soon as you are diagnosed as that can make all the difference in your health outcomes. Even if you’re feeling fine and don’t feel sick at all, its important to consult your doctor to get started on your treatment. Antiretroviral treatment is recommended to all that are HIV positive. It is effective as it works to lower the levels of the virus in the bloodstream, which assists in preventing the progression from HIV to AIDS. Additionally, people who keep up with their treatment reduces the chance of spreading it to their partners as much as 96%.

When should you start treatment? 

You should begin your treatment as soon as you know you are HIV positive. Receiving treatment as soon as possible will allow you to live a long and healthy life, and minimise your risk of passing it on to others.

What treatments are available for HIV? 

There are a range of medications available to those who have been diagnosed. These medications are prescription only and referred to as antiretroviral therapies. Treatments for HIV have progressed rapidly over the years and are becoming more effective, and have less side effects for many individuals.

How to decide which treatment is the right one?

The right treatment differs from person to person making it important that you have an continuing and trusted relationship with your doctor. Treatments with a variety of pills may work better for one person while another may be more suited to newer treatments such as one-pill-a-day may work for one person.

How long will HIV treatment last?

Once treatment starts, it is critical to ensure you keep up with it and take the doses your doctor recommends. Missing doses can result in lessening the effectiveness of the treatment and could make the virus grow stronger, so it’s important to be consistent with taking your medications.

More information on accessing HIV care in Australia can be found at napwha.org.au.

Why Teaching Abstinence-Only Is Not The Way

In sex education classes, most lessons on how to avoid unwanted pregnancies or diseases would be simply to be abstinent. I’m sure you’ve all seen the film, Mean Girls, and the iconic scene of where Coach Carr presents a lesson on sex education. He tells the students having sex will cause pregnancies and death. Although this is just a movie, this is, unfortunately, an accurate portrayal of how the sex-ed system works around schools. Students are continuously taught to not have sex, to be abstinent, and to keep their hands to themselves. This is an extremely dangerous thing to be teaching youths, and is not an effective way to prevent STDs and unplanned pregnancies.

Abstinence-only education is very flawed as students are taught that to avoid any possible repercussions of having sex, they should just not be having it in the first place. When high schoolers are only taught this, they are missing out on learning how to practice safe sex, which is crucial knowledge that everyone should have. Expecting the students to be abstinent is a very unrealistic view and results in even bigger consequences as when they do engage in intercourse they are not aware of how to protect themselves from diseases.

So as funny as this scene was, it should not be how sex education is. Abstinence is not the only way to avoid HIV/AIDS and other STDs. Make sure you check out this post to see how you can practice safe sex and protect yourself from diseases.

FAQs about HIV/AIDS

There are a lot of people who are unsure of what AIDS is, how its spread, and how its prevented. This uncertainty leads to many misconceptions, here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

What is HIV?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus that causes AIDS. It can be transmitted when infected bodily fluids of one person is transferred to another whether it be pre-cum, blood, semen, breast milk, or vaginal fluids. HIV attacks the cells which usually protect the body against sicknesses. If left untreated, it will cause the immune system to weaken until it can no longer fight off other diseases and infections.

What is AIDS? 

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the most advanced stage of HIV. Early testing, treatment and care will slow down the progression from HIV to AIDS.

What is the difference between HIV and AIDS? 

HIV is the virus, AIDS is the most advanced stage of this virus. Everyone who has AIDS is infected with HIV, but not everyone who has HIV has AIDS.

How does someone contract the virus? 

HIV can be spread through any unprotected sexual contact, whether it is oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Sharing needles is another cause, as well. Tears, saliva, and sweat have never been shown to spread the infection.

Who is at risk for HIV? 

Many times people would never think they could get infected so they don’t worry about protection or getting tested. In reality, anyone who has had unprotected sex, shared needles, or been with a partner that has done these things or whose partner’s other partners have done these things.

How can you tell if you have HIV? 

The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. Often times people who are infected with the virus show no symptoms so you cannot rely on symptoms for you to know whether or not you are infected.

Is there a cure for HIV? 

Currently there are no cures for HIV, nor are there any vaccines to prevent it. However, there are medications available that individuals infected with the virus can take to minimise the effects. With consistent treatment they are able to live a long and healthy life, with less chance of spreading the disease to others.

The Importance Of HIV Testing

1 in 2 sexually active young people will get an STD by the time they’re 25. The majority of these people won’t even know they’ve contracted one. An estimated one in four people who are living with HIV don’t know they have it. HIV will never be combatted if those living with it are not even aware of their status. When an individual who has been infected with HIV but aren’t aware of it, it could lead to them spreading it to their partners.

Not being tested between partners has also led to a rapid increase in HIV, which has caused a number of lives to be lost. People also tend to forget that the infection are not constrained by single-country borders, just because you’re abroad or on holiday doesn’t mean you can’t contract the virus. If you were sexually active while abroad, make sure you get tested when you get home.

It’s also important to remember that not all who are HIV-positive have AIDS, meaning if someone were to find out they had HIV in the early stages, they could get the right treatment to prevent it from progressing to AIDS. To ensure you protect yourself and your partner from the virus, it’s important to get tested regularly.

For more information on HIV testing in Australia, go to the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations.  

How To Prevent HIV/AIDS

There are a number of ways HIV/AIDS can be spread (check out an earlier blog post for more information on its transmission). To prevent this from happening, here are simple practices you can do to protect yourself from HIV and other diseases.

 Image Source: http://www.avert.org/hiv-prevention.htm

  1. Use a new condom every time you have sex
    • Use only water-based lubricants. Oil-based lubricants can weaken condoms and cause them to break. During oral sex use a nonlubricated, cut-open condom or a dental dam — a piece of medical-grade latex.
  2. Get tested and know your partner’s HIV status
    • Communicate with you partner and get tested before you have sex.
  3. Use clean needles
    • If you use needles for any reason, make sure they are clean and do not share them.
  4. If you’re pregnant, get medical attention immediately
    • Being HIV-positive means you may pass the infection to your baby. But if you receive treatment during pregnancy, you can cut your baby’s risk significantly.
  5. Talk to your health care provider about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
    • PrEP is an HIV prevention option for people who don’t have HIV but who are at high risk of becoming infected with HIV. PrEP involves taking a specific HIV medicine every day. PrEP should always be combined with other prevention options, such as condoms.

How Is HIV Transmitted

HIV can be transmitted through five different ways, they are:

  • Sexual contact
  • Injection drug use
  • Pregnancy, childbirth & breastfeeding
  • Occupational exposure
  • Blood transfusion/organ transplant

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Sexual contact

The most common way of transmission is through sexual contact, with anal sex being the most high-risk. HIV is found in the blood, semen (cum), preseminal fluid (pre-cum), or rectal fluid of someone that is diagnosed. The ‘bottom’ has a higher risk of contracting it as the rectum’s lining is thin and may allow the virus to enter one’s system during anal sex. The ‘top’ is also at risk as the virus could enter through the opening of the penis or on small cuts, or open sores on the penis.

Vaginal sex, while not risky as anal sex, is still a high-risk for transmitting HIV. For women, the mucous membranes that line the vagina and cervix could absorb the virus, and in some cases the lining of the vagina can tear making it possible for HIV to enter the system. For men, the virus is able to enter through the urethra or any cuts/open sores on the penis.

Oral sex is the least risky when it comes to HIV transmission but it is still a possibility. The highest risk oral sex has is through fellatio and the partner ejaculates in the mouth. Factors that may increase the risk of transmitting HIV through oral sex are oral ulcers, bleeding gums, genital sores, and the presence of other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) (which may or may not be visible).

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Injection Drug Use 

Sharing needles with someone who has HIV is very high-risk in transmission. Sharing drug equipment can also be a risk for spreading HIV. Infected blood can get into drug solutions by:

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Pregnancy, Childbirth and Breastfeeding 

A mother who is HIV-positive is able to pass on the virus to her child in three ways:

  • During pregnancy
  • During vaginal childbirth
  • Through breastfeeding

This is referred to as “mother-to-child transmission”, “perinatal” or “vertical transmission.” There is a 25% chance that a mother could pass on the virus to her baby if they are not treated for HIV during pregnancy, labor, or delivery.

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Occupational Exposure 

Occupational exposure is when healthcare workers who work with those diagnosed with HIV become infected with the virus. This is an extremely rare case, but it does happen. The proper use of gloves, goggles, and safety devices to prevent injuries from sharp medical instruments, can help minimise the risk of exposure to HIV when treating those infected.

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Blood Transfusion/Organ Transplant 

Infection from a blood transfusion or organ transplant is extremely low. It is not possible to be infected when donating blood as blood collection procedures are extremely safe and regulated. Receiving blood also carries a very low risk in transmission as all donated blood is tested thoroughly to ensure there are no diseases. Organ donors are tested if they are HIV positive before they are approved, while these tests are very accurate they do not detect the virus in those newly infected. This can lead to some of the organ recipients become infected.

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