On December 1, 1988, the World AIDS Day was commemorated for the first time ever. To date, this disease has been responsible for more than 35.3 million infections and more than 25 million deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), making it one of the most destructive epidemics in history.
In the 80’s of the last century, cases of pneumonia and ‘Kaposi’s Sarcoma’, a variant of skin cancer, started to appear, which are symptoms that manifest in an advanced stage of the HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus).
Said disease, up to that time, was known as ‘The Pink Plague’, because of the pink spots that appeared on the skin. In 1984, officially, the disease was considered an epidemic.
In terms of cases only in Barranquilla, so far in 2022, 500 new HIV cases have been diagnosed, according to Andres Mauricio Oyola, manager of Proyectos de Cooperación Internacional Enterritorio (tr: International Cooperation Projects Enterritorio).
And the reality is that there is still a lot of misinformation and taboos around the topic, so I decided to investigate some data that will be very helpful to combat the stigma that exists around this disease.
Dr. Leslie Marcial Soto Arquiñigo, an infectologist and internist, created a brief guide on some myths about HIV:
Are HIV and AIDS the same thing?
HIV is Human Immunodeficiency Virus and AIDS is Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, they are not the same. Although HIV and AIDS are related, HIV is the virus that affects the immune system, especially the T lymphocytes, which causes a progressive lowering of the defenses. While AIDS is a state of infection in which a set of diseases affect people with HIV, seriously, until death occurs.
Is HIV a disease exclusive to the LGBTIQ+ community?
No. Contracting HIV is not related to a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The virus is transmitted between people who do not use protection when having sex. In addition, there are other routes of transmission other than sex, such as blood transfusions, pregnancy, sharing needles or syringes, etc.
Can people tell HIV patients apart based on their appearance?
Another stigma towards people with HIV is that they have a special appearance that will give them away. Fortunately, scientific research has advanced and a patient with HIV infection shows no visible signs of the disease. Therefore, it is not possible to know that a person has HIV just by looking at them.
Is HIV transmitted by any physical contact?
It was once believed that HIV could be transmitted by rubbing, hugging, kissing and even sharing eating utensils with patients with the virus, and although this is completely false, this myth persists to this day. The virus can only be transmitted through body fluids where it is highly concentrated, such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk.
Does oral sex prevent HIV transmission?
This myth, besides being irresponsible, is quite dangerous. It is deadly to simply believe, mistakenly, that the practice of oral sex with an HIV patient, unlike other sexual practices, prevents the transmission of the virus.
In oral sex there is also an exchange of body fluids such as semen and vaginal fluid, which carry a significant load of the virus that could also reach the blood directly through open wounds in the areas of contact.
Is an HIV patient sentenced to death?
When HIV first appeared, it was thought that patients would only have a few months to live. Luckily, scientific advances have allowed HIV patients to live a normal life, with a life expectancy very similar to that of a person who has not contracted the virus. Thanks to the treatments, the virus has an inactive stage, in which the carrier cannot transmit it.
Is mother-to-child transmission of HIV inevitable?
Yes. Transmission can be prevented if action is taken in time. Today, antiretroviral treatments have been developed which, if taken in time during pregnancy and breastfeeding, ensure that the baby is born and remains healthy, even if its mother is a carrier of the virus.
Leaders around the world have commited to end this epidemic by the year 2030, but, until that happy moment arrives, it is important to know the reality of the disease, how we should protect ourselves and prevent its transmission and, as far as possible, be more empathetic with those who carry the virus.
Traducción del español: Catalina Oviedo Brugés