The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic might have hogged all the limelight, but that doesn’t mean the other dangerous diseases have disappeared from the planet. One such disease is AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) caused by the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV. This virus has claimed 36.3 million lives, seven times more than the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, and “continues to be a major global public health issue,” says the World Health Organisation (WHO). An estimate of 37.7 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2020. Hence, to spread awareness around this serious disease, World AIDS Day is observed on December 1 every year. There is a lot of misinformation and myths around the disease, which might be because of the associated stigma. This can discourage people to seek proper aid and can even fuel further misinformation. Hence, to quash such myths and find out the truth, Onlymyhealth spoke to Dr Ankita Baidya, Consultant - Infectious Diseases at Manipal Hospital, Dwarka, New Delhi. But before that, let us know some fundamentals about HIV/AIDS.
What Is HIV/AIDS?
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As the name suggests, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) targets the infected person’s immune system, which weakens his/her ability to fight off diseases. And AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection, the WHO says. Hence, as you can see, testing positive for HIV and having AIDS are two distinct things, hence their symptoms are different too.
Many people experience flu-like symptoms within two to four weeks after getting infected with HIV. Symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Muscle cramps
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Mouth ulcers
As you already know, AIDS is an advanced stage of HIV infection, when the infection isn’t treated well or at all. Here are some of the symptoms of AIDS according to the HIV.gov website of the US government:
- Recurring fever
- Rapid weight loss
- Extreme tiredness the reason for which can’t be explained
- Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
- Memory loss
HIV AIDS: Myths v/s Facts
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As you might already know, misinformation around AIDS is aplenty. Let’s look at nine of these one by one and know the facts behind them.
Myth 1: HIV & AIDS Mean The Same
Fact: Many use HIV and AIDS interchangeably. They might sound similar but are distinct. “HIV is basically a virus that has infected a human being, but when we say it is AIDS, then this infection has progressed to such an extent that there is an immunodeficiency, to the extent that the patient comes with severe infections with rare microorganisms,” Dr Baidya said.
Myth 2: All HIV-Positive Individuals Develop AIDS
Fact: All HIV-positive individuals do not develop AIDS. With timely management, proper medicines, preventive vaccination, and regular health check-ups, those who test positive for HIV can lead a normal life. The infection in such cases will not progress to the stage of AIDS.
Myth 3: HIV/AIDS Leads To A Reduced Lifespan
Fact: Again, this is far from the truth. As mentioned above, HIV infection can be very well managed with timely intervention, medication, vaccination, and health check-ups. With these, the HIV-positive can lead a normal life, as normal as that of someone who isn’t.
Myth 4: Every Person Suffering From AIDS Dies Of The Disease
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Fact: No, everyone with AIDS doesn’t die of the disease. Many good medicines are effective against the disease. Also, when diagnosed at the right time and with proper and timely medical intervention, the patient can recover and get healthy as any other individual.
Myth 5: HIV can spread through hugging, kissing, or sharing food
Fact: No, HIV doesn’t spread through saliva. It cannot spread through hugging too. It primarily spreads through sexual contact. It can also be transmitted from mother to child or through any needle stick injury and even through blood transfusion.
Myth 6: You Cannot Have Children If You Are HIV-Positive
Fact: Although this virus can spread from a mother to her child, this doesn’t mean that the woman cannot bear children. With proper treatment, the virus caseload in the mother can be suppressed. Even if she is not on treatment, there are several antiretrovirals (HIV medicines) that can be given to the mother during the time of delivery.
Myth 7: If Both Partners Are HIV-Positive, There Is No Reason To Use Protection During Sex
Fact: Even if both partners test positive for HIV, there are other sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) too, which you can prevent by using protection during sex. Also, both partners might have a different viral load, also the strains might be different. “So, the inter transmission can sometimes have a treatment failure problem,” said Dr Baidya. Hence, it’s always a better deal to use protection.
Myth 8: HIV/AIDS Cannot Spread Through Oral Sex
Fact: Although the chances are low, HIV/AIDS can still spread through oral sex. In case of mucosal erosion or any ulcers, the virus can spread through this mode. Fluids from the genital organs can carry this HIV in them, the doctor said.
Myth 9: HIV/AIDS Is Curable
Fact: No, currently there is no known cure for AIDS. The available medicines control the replication of the virus, which helps in controlling the viral caseload, and hence, decreases the damage to the immune system. These drugs have very few side effects and using them, HIV has been controlled considerably. Other than this, with proper monitoring, care, treatment, regular health check-ups, prevention, and vaccines, an infected person can lead a normal life. Although there is no cure for AIDS presently, you need to be optimistic as science and technology are making great strides, and we might see a cure in the future.
Hence, as you can see there were so many myths around HIV/AIDS, a disease that affects numerous people worldwide. Debunking these and getting the facts is crucial to not only spread the right information but to also remove the stigma around this disease.
(With inputs from Dr Ankita Baidya, Consultant - Infectious Diseases at Manipal Hospital, Dwarka, New Delhi)
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