By Jess Brown
There’s a lot of fear around HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), and since the early tribes we started out as, fear has caused humans to run chaotically wild with their imaginations. Just look at the witch hunts hundreds of years ago. It’s probably best to avoid such moral panic and look at facts. The way the media presents HIV is as an extremely contagious disease that is going to come and get you whilst you sleep. In the 80s at the height of the AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) crisis it became the boogie man for the right wing to try and attack gay people with false information. Some of those myths have unfortunately stuck around. As it’s World AIDS Day on 1st December, I think it’s important to address some of these and help disprove them.
HIV can be transmitted by touching a person with HIV
The myth of how HIV is contracted is perhaps one of the biggest myths perpetuated. The truth is, you can’t catch HIV from any of the following:
- Mosquito or any other insect bites
- Urine or sweat
- Public toilets, saunas, showers, gym equipment, swimming pools or water fountains
- Going to school with, socialising or working with HIV-positive people
- Sharing cutlery or crockery
- Sneezes or coughs
- Touching, hugging, shaking hands with or kissing a person with HIV
Breathing the same air as someone who has HIV
The most common way of contracting HIV in the UK is through vaginal or anal sex without a condom or by sharing needles. HIV can also be transmitted from a mother to their baby through pregnany, birth or breastfeeding.
HIV is a death sentence
Thankfully, this is no longer true. Thanks to developments in antiretroviral treatment (ART) and medication that helps to keep opportunistic infections (diseases that occur in people with suppressed immune systems) under control, people with HIV now have more chances of living long and productive lives. In fact, recent studies have found that if a person diagnosed with HIV early on and takes correct medication, then theiraverage life expectancy is almost no different to that of a person without HIV.
HIV is AIDS
Wrong, HIV isn’t AIDS but if it isn't managed through medication, it can progress into AIDS which can be life-threatening. With the help of drugs, a person with HIV can lead a normal life and in many cases, treatment can make a person have an undetectable viral load, meaning they can't pass it on. In fact, 87% of people in the UK with HIV are estimated to have an undetectable viral load.
Only certain types of people can get HIV
It’s common for people to think that you can only catch HIV if you are a gay man or an IV drug user. However, there was a study done in 2015 which found stats on modes of transmission eg “Of those receiving HIV care in 2015, 41,945 (48%) were exposed through sex between a man and a woman, 41,016 (47%) were exposed through sex between men, 1,909 (2%) were exposed from injecting drug use, 1,383 (less than 2%) were exposed before or shortly after birth and 753 were exposed from blood/receiving blood products”
Here’s some information from the official World AIDS Day website “Over 101,000 people are living with HIV in the UK. Globally, there are an estimated 36.7 million people who have the virus. Despite the virus only being identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS”.
No one is immune from HIV, if you're sexually active or you have ever shared a needle with somebody you should get tested, it's a simple finger prick test and you can have the results within minutes or you can see your GP on local sexual health services for a blood test. Chances are, you don't have it but it's always good to have peace of mind. You can find out where you can get tested in Sheffield here… http://www.sexualhealthsheffield.nhs.uk/services/sti-screening-and-treatment/hiv-services/
For more information about HIV and AIDs, head to the NHS website - https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hiv-and-aids/
SAYiT is a charity in Sheffield that works with young people aged 12-25 who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or affected by HIV. They are holding an Open Day on 1st December to mark World AIDS Day and to give you a chance to find out more about the charity.