One afternoon in my senior year of college, I chose to go to a safety on campus seminar where a middle-aged woman about 45 years old dressed very elegantly stood on a stage in front the room. She was in all white with some fierce red bottom heels, glowing skin, long beautiful black hair with some silver and a very welcoming smile. She opened her speech by saying “look at me, I have style, I am attractive, I am smart, I drive a luxury car and wear expensive clothing. But what you don’t know about me is that I also have AIDS.” She then said “STOP, don’t judge me because I wasn’t promiscuous or unsafe with my sexual decisions. I got AIDS from my husband of four years.” As these words left her mouth, there was an eerie tension that set on the audience, grabbing our attention for the remainder of the seminar.
AIDS is a topic some people want to avoid or ignore because we think, “that can’t happen to me”. But, anyone is susceptible to contracting HIV/AIDs. It is real and more common than many think.
Here are some facts:
In 2019, there were approximately 1.2 million people living with HIV in the US and 34,800 new infections, which is an 8% decrease since 2015.
In 2019, an estimated 1 in 8 people living with HIV in the US did not know they had it.
In 2019, about 66% of people living with HIV received some HIV care, 50% were retained in care, and 56% were virally suppressed.
Men who have sex with men (MSM) have been the population most impacted by the epidemic since the beginning. MSM of color are more disproportionately impacted by HIV intersecting the stigma against homosexual relationships, racism and other social determinants of health.
If current rates continue, it is estimated that 1 in 6 MSM will be diagnosed with HIV at some point in their lives.
MSM make up an estimated 2% of the US population but accounted for 66% of new annual HIV infections in 2017.
As of 2019, 56% of people living with HIV in the US contracted it through male-to-male sexual transmission.
As of 2018, 1 in 6 MSM living with HIV was unaware of their status.
People who are infected with HIV/AIDs are being treated more effectively due to increased medical advances, and increased knowledge about the infection and preventive methods. Even with all the information available about HIV/AIDs, there are still many myths about the disease. Here are some common ones.
1. Myth: If you have HIV that means you have AIDS.
NOT TRUE: HIV and AIDS are not the same thing. HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system. AIDS is a term used by doctors to describe the damage done to the immune system by HIV. Many people with HIV these days will never get AIDS because the treatment keeps their immune system healthy and the viral load low.
2. Myth: If you have HIV, you can’t or shouldn’t get pregnant.
NOT TRUE: Many women with HIV get pregnant, have healthy pregnancies, and deliver healthy HIV negative babies. You will be looked after by a specialist team who will put a plan in place for you meaning that the chance of you passing HIV on to your baby is less than 1%. However, if you have HIV, it is recommended that you don’t breastfeed.
3. Myth: Having HIV means you can only have sex with other people who have HIV.
NOT TRUE: Loads of people with HIV have healthy sex lives and relationships with HIV negative people. That’s what condoms are for!! Also, if you are on treatment for HIV and are undetectable for at least six months, passing HIV onto any sexual partners is extremely low.
4. Myth: You can get HIV from kissing, using the same cups, plates, knives, forks etc. as someone with HIV.
NOT TRUE: Even though there is a tiny bit of HIV in saliva/spit there is not enough to pass on to someone else, HIV doesn’t survive on surfaces like toilet seats.
5. Myth: It’s only the needle that passes on HIV. If you don’t share needles then you can’t get HIV.
NOT TRUE: HIV can be passed on from sharing any part of the works…needle, syringe, spoon, filter, etc. Another interesting fact is that even though HIV can die within seconds of encountering the air, it can live for days/weeks within the barrel of a syringe.
Regular testing of you and partner
HIV suppressing drugs
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP): uninfected person takes medication regularly
Antiredtroviral therapy (ART): HIV-positive person takes medication regularly
Postexposure prophylaxis (PEP): drug used after potential HIV exposure to prevent infection of uninfected person
What is PrEP? It is a highly effective medicine taken to prevent getting HIV.
PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99%.
PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from injection drug use by at least 74%.
PrEP reaches maximum protection from HIV for receptive anal sex (bottoming) at about 7 days of daily use.
For receptive vaginal sex and injection drug use, PrEP reaches maximum protection at about 21 days of daily use.
More information in CDC
Information to know if your partner has HIV/AIDS?
Will I inevitably get HIV if my partner has it? No. the methods to prevent HIV transmission includes drugs mentioned above
Are all sexual acts off the table? No. Uninfected partner must be cautious. It is important to make sure the infected partner has effectively suppressed the virus through consistent medication use making viral load undetectable for at least 3 months.
Are there any risks for kissing my partner or sharing foods with my partner? No. It has been shown to be safe to kiss your partner and there is a very low risk of spreading HIV through food, skin-on-skin contact, toilets, or toothbrushes especially when HIV treatment is effectively suppressing the virus.
What does it mean if the partner’s viral load is undetectable? When undetectable in lab results, infected person cannot transmit HIV to anyone, however if the infected person does not take their meds for a week or longer, they can be infectious.
Should I get tested regularly? That’s a simple answer. Of course!!! Once a year if you’re in a monogamous relationship, 3-6 months if you’re having sex outside of a single partner relationship.
How to support my HIV/AIDS positive partner? Be supportive in reminding your partner when to take their medication, support them emotionally and mentally to ensure they stay healthy with personal habits and medication use.
Your Physical Therapist,
This information is generalized and intended for educational purposes only. Due to potential individual contraindications, please see your primary care provider before implementing any strategies in these posts