December is HIV/AIDS awareness month, dedicated to spreading awareness about the virus and reducing the stigma attached to it. The campaign is to help those living with it and advocate for an urgent response to reduce its global impact.

The symbol associated with HIV/AIDS awareness is a red ribbon.

According to a 2018 report published by UNAIDS, there are 2.1 million people living in India with HIV.

India’s epidemic is concentrated among key populations and the National AIDS Control Programme has made particular efforts to reach these high-risk groups with HIV interventions. Although India has made significant progress in reducing new HIV infections by half since 2001, there still exists a lot of stigma, discrimination and misinformation clouding HIV and AIDS in India. To begin with, due to lack of access to clinics or fear of being ostracised from their community, many refuse to take the test or the free anti-viral treatment.

Here are some common myths about HIV/AIDS that propagate stigma and discrimination in society:

Myth #1: HIV is a death sentence

Many assume that being infected with HIV means a shorter lifespan of frequent hospitalisations and full-time support. This is simply untrue. Most people infected with HIV go on to live an expected lifespan. With the advent of highly active, antiretroviral therapy, a person with HIV with good access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) can expect to live an average life span, so long as they take their prescribed medications.

Myth #2: I can get HIV from hugging a person with HIV

Many believe that HIV can spread through touch or breathing the same air as someone with the condition. However, HIV only spreads through the following bodily fluids: blood, semen, vaginal fluid, anal mucous, and breast milk.

HIV doesn’t spread through touch, tears, sweat, saliva, or pee. You cannot get infected with it by:

  • Breathing the same air
  • Touching a toilet seat or doorknob or handle
  • Drinking from a water fountain
  • Hugging, kissing, or shaking hands
  • Sharing eating utensils
  • Using exercise equipment at a gym

Myth #3: You can tell if someone has HIV/AIDS just by looking at them

Symptoms of being infected with HIV vary from individual to individual. For many, symptoms do not show up at all, making it impossible to tell if someone is HIV positive just by looking at them. Moreover, the symptoms also include fever, cold and general fatigue which are typical for many diseases, making it impossible to identify someone as HIV positive.

The stereotypical symptoms that people often associate with HIV are symptoms of complications that can arise from AIDS-related illnesses or complications.

With treatment and medications, those symptoms can be eliminated in an individual living with HIV, and they are likely to be as healthy as everyone else.

Myth #4: HIV always leads to AIDS

AIDS ( Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a condition that arises due to infection by HIV. But this doesn’t mean that all HIV-positive individuals develop AIDS. There are three stages of HIV infection: acute primary infection, asymptomatic stage, and the final symptomatic HIV infection. If a person develops certain severe illnesses or diseases – as a result of damage to their immune system from advanced stage 3 HIV infection – they are said to have AIDS. AIDS can be prevented by early treatment of the HIV infection.

Myth #5: I can easily manage HIV with drugs, so I don’t need to worry about it

Since the 90s, antiretroviral therapy has been extremely effective in reducing HIV transmission rates and helping those infected manage the condition to lead relatively normal lives. However, many of the treatments and medications have severe side-effects and can be expensive. There are also drug-resistant strains of the virus which make the management of the condition harder. Currently, no treatment can cure people of HIV infection. Prevention is better than management, especially when it comes to a chronic disease such as HIV.

It is essential for our safety, along with that of our partners, families and children that we take tests to check if we are infected with the virus. Practise compassion, and be kind to those with the condition by accepting them.

This month, support foundations working with those with AIDS/HIV, and do your bit in breaking the stigma. Join DocVita in raising awareness! Consult a medical expert from the comfort of your home on DocVita: www.docvita.com!