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Top 5 Myths About HIV

Treatment for HIV and AIDS has made huge strides since HIV was first identified in 1981. While in the early years of the AIDS epidemic an HIV diagnosis often led to an early death, now a diagnosis of HIV can be effectively managed with the proper course of medication for many years.

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a virus that attacks the cells that help the body fight infections and stay healthy. HIV makes a person more vulnerable to infections and diseases, and if left untreated, can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). It is spread through contact with certain bodily fluids of someone who has HIV, commonly through unprotected sex or by sharing injection drug equipment like needles.

The main way to reduce your risk of HIV is to use condoms when having sex and to routinely get tested for HIV. Don’t inject drugs – but if you do, only use sterile equipment and never share with others.

Here are some common myths about HIV:

MYTH #1: Treating HIV requires many pills.

FACT: Most people starting treatment for HIV take one to four pills a day. It also may be possible to combine several medications into a single pill. While many years ago people with HIV had to take many pills, science has advanced and that is no longer the norm.

MYTH #2: If I’m being treated for HIV, I can’t spread the virus.

FACT: Modern treatments for HIV can lower the amount of virus in your blood to the point that blood tests can’t detect HIV – which is called “undetectable viral load.” While this means you are less contagious – there is still a risk that you could spread HIV.

The amount of virus in your blood can intermittently change and increase without your knowledge, which is why it’s still important to take maximum precaution.

MYTH #3: I can’t have children if I’m HIV-positive.

FACT: An HIV-positive diagnosis for a man or woman does not mean they will not be able to safely have children. Doctors can recommend treatments to lower or remove the likelihood that the virus would be passed on during conception.

For women who are already pregnant, doctors can prescribe drugs to protect both mother and baby; and the baby may be prescribed medication after birth.

MYTH #4: HIV/AIDS is no longer an epidemic.

FACT: While significant progress has been made in lowering the death rate from AIDS in the past 30 years both in the U.S. and abroad, there continues to be a steady number of people newly diagnosed with AIDS every year.

In 2018, 37,968 people were newly diagnosed with HIV – a seven percent decrease from 2014. At the end of 2018, an estimated 1.2 million people in the U.S. had HIV.

Most new cases are due to people having unprotected sex when they’re not aware they are HIV-positive. In the early stages of an HIV infection, people don’t have symptoms and don’t appear sick – which is why frequent HIV tests are so important for people who are sexually active.

MYTH #5: I’ll know if I have HIV if I have symptoms.

FACT: The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested. Anyone can get HIV – no matter their sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, gender or age.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise anyone who is sexually active should be routinely tested for HIV at least one in their lifetimes. More frequent testing is recommended if you are a gay man, have had unprotected sex (sex without a condom) with more than one partner since your last test or if you’ve used illegal, intravenous drugs.

Thanks to advancements in HIV treatment medications, many people with HIV can live long lives by sticking to their treatment plan and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, people living with HIV may have a higher chance of being diagnosed with cancer, heart disease and kidney disease – which is why it’s essential for them to eat a healthy diet, exercise, not smoke or use tobacco and take their medications as prescribed.

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Photo credit: monkeybusinessimages

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