Monthly E-Newsletter March 2008
Myths and Facts about HIV and AIDS
Dr. Varsha Sharma
AIDS stands for "acquired immunodeficiency syndrome." AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which weakens the body's immune system. HIV spreads through unprotected sex (intercourse without a condom), transfusions of unscreened blood, contaminated needles (most frequently for injecting drug use), and from an infected woman to her child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. The majority of infected individuals look healthy and feel well for many years after infection; they may not even suspect they harbor the virus, though they can transmit it to others. A laboratory test is the only certain way to determine whether an individual is HIV-positive. Once established an HIV infection, individuals are infected for life and will probably succumb to serious opportunistic infections caused by the weakening of their immune system.
FACT: HIV is spread only in the following ways:
1) By having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with an HIV positive person.
2) By sharing needles or syringes with an HIV positive person.
3) During pregnancy, birth or breast-feeding from an infected mother to her baby.
4) Through transfusion of blood from an HIV positive person.
FACT: Body fluids of an infected person that spread HIV are: Semen, Vaginal fluid, Blood and Breast milk.
There's still a lot of misinformation about AIDS. As the available knowledge about HIV/AIDS is to be regularly updated, sometimes it is hard to keep up and be well-informed about the latest developments. The most distressing fact about AIDS is that there are so many unwanted myths surrounding this disease. This has led people to think of it in a degenerating way and treat people infected with it very harshly. Some popular myths and facts about AIDS are:
Myth - A vaccine to prevent HIV has already been invented, but the general public is kept uninformed.
Fact - People share the thought that HIV vaccine already exists somewhere in secret laboratories, but for a number of reasons the public is kept uninformed. Is it really true? The only thing we know for sure is that no official statement about such an invention has ever been made by any country of the world. There is no vaccination against HIV infection, so far.
Myth - Lesbians are not at a risk of getting HIV.
Fact - Although the spread of HIV/AIDS among hard-core lesbians is rare, sometimes it happens. Though there has been a confirmed case of the virus been spread from an HIV-positive woman to her female partner. Since the contamination is only possible if infected bodily fluids, such as vaginal fluid, breast milk, or blood, find their way into the blood system of a healthy person. HIV spread in lesbians can theoretically be possible if they share sex toys or are engaged in radical sadomasochistic sexual practices.
Myth - The onset of AIDS from HIV can be prevented through modern antiretroviral therapy.
Fact - Antiretroviral drug intervention can substantially extend the life expectancy of an HIV-positive person and can prolong the onset of AIDS. The therapy has numerous side effects, and cannot totally prevent the eventual development of AIDS. Although antiretroviral drugs have been developed to slow the progression of HIV to AIDS.
Myth - Most people who get infected with HIV become seriously ill within three years.
Fact - In fact, after a person is infected with HIV, there is usually no change in that person's health for quite a few years. The person feels well, is able to work as before and shows no signs of being sick. This period is normally around 10 years, with an average range of some 8 to 12 years in length. Rarely, a person can begin to show evidence of the infection as early as 5 years after the infection. Someone who has HIV looks and feels healthy. Looking at someone, one cannot judge if he/she has HIV/AIDS.
Myth - If antiretroviral drug is started when the CD-4 cell count is above 350 units, the immune system can be completely recovered.
Fact - Unfortunately, it is not true. Such beliefs were widely spread in the mid-1990s, when AIDS was still a new and promising invention, and patients thought that starting the therapy early would give them more chances to survive. In accordance with the study published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, the therapy outcome is identical in patients who started antiretroviral drug with CD-4 cell count both above and below 350 units. The study was based on an analysis of twenty independent trials.
Myth - The use of nonoxynol-9 (a type of spermacide) protects against all sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
Fact - The spermacide nonoxynol-9 in different forms (vaginal gels, foams, creams, films, etc.) acts as a local contraceptive. It is able to kill the sperm with a high degree of reliability and therefore is used by many women to prevent pregnancy. In the 1990s, nonoxynol-9 studies showed that the spermacide was not only powerless to protect against HIV, but also it could increase the probability of contamination since it had a toxic effect on the rectal and vaginal mucous membranes. Surprisingly, nonoxynol-9 is still used in some commercial lubricants, which makes people mistakenly believe that it can protect them from HIV and other STDs.
Myth - It is possible to get HIV from mosquito bites or kissing.
Fact - HIV can only survive in the living body of a human. The contamination is only possible when one of the four bodily fluids of the infected person, namely, vaginal fluid, sperm, breast milk, or blood, comes in contact with the blood system of another person. HIV is found in saliva, but in quantities too small to infect, nor can mosquitoes carry contaminated blood with live immunodeficiency virus. If you drink a bucket of saliva from an HIV positive person, you won't become infected. There has been only one recorded case of HIV transmission via kissing, out of all the many millions of kisses. In this case, both partners had extremely badly bleeding gums.
People with HIV/AIDS should be sent away from the community.
Fact - In fact, people living with HIV/AIDS need love, support and proper health care from their families and others. ”SHUN THE DISEASE; NOT THE DISEASED”
Myth - The top partner during vaginal and anal sex is at low risk for HIV.
Fact - In reality, the top partner (the inserting partner) is at high risk of infection, and the bottom partner (the receiving partner) is at even higher risk of infection. This is because the top partner is being exposed to his partner's blood during anal sex (this is normal), and he is being exposed to his partner's vaginal secretions and possibly menstrual blood, during vaginal sex. HIV can enter his body through microscopic cuts/abrasions on the head of his penis, which normally occur during intercourse. Having another sexually transmitted disease (STD) that causes open lesions (like syphilis and herpes) can further increase this risk. During unprotected vaginal and anal intercourse, the insertive partner (the top) is at high risk, and the receptive partner (the bottom) is at even higher risk. Neither partner is at low risk. The same holds true for other STDs as well.
Myth - Oral Sex fails to transmit HIV.
Fact - HIV is transmitted through all forms of unprotected sex, including oral, vaginal and anal. Receiving oral sex (exposure only to saliva) is very low risk for HIV. But giving oral sex (exposure to pre-cum, semen, vaginal secretions and menstrual blood) is risky for HIV. The more of the infected body fluids that a person gets into his mouth, the greater the risk. There have already been cases of HIV transmission through oral sex.
Myth - Education, condoms, or abstinence from sex, is all it takes to stop the spread of AIDS.
Fact - All the education and condoms in the world won't protect you if you're drunk or high on drugs. And let's face it. There is a very high rate of alcoholism and drug abuse in many countries. When you're drunk from alcohol, or high on drugs (like crank, speed, pot, cocaine, etc.), you tend to put yourself at risk for HIV and STDs, when normally you would not. Persons under the influence of alcohol and other recreational drugs are more likely to have sex, they tend to use condoms less often, or they don't use them correctly. So even if a person knows all about HIV/STD prevention, all that education will be worthless, if they get drunk or high from other recreational drugs.
Myth - IUD/PILL provides
protection against HIV/STDs to some degree.
Fact - Non-barrier contraceptives only offer protection against pregnancy. They do not offer any protection whatsoever against STDs/HIV.
People who get AIDS are drug users and men in homosexual relationships
Fact - In the mid 1980s, men who had sex with men, injecting drug users, and recipients of blood products (such as haemophiliacs) were identified as the main risk groups for HIV. Although homosexual men remain the most at risk of contracting HIV, heterosexual transmission has risen steadily over the last 15 years. In 1999, for the first time, the rate of heterosexually transmitted HIV infection overtook the rate of infection among men who had sex with men. HIV can infect anyone regardless of your sexuality.
Myth - Condoms protect against all STDs/HIV
Fact - Using a condom correctly for oral, anal and vaginal sex is a good protection against infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea. Condoms are also important in preventing the transmission of HIV. However, according to the Family Planning Association, there is little evidence to suggest that condoms protect against the transmission of genital warts. It is also uncertain whether or not condoms can protect against genital herpes. But because condoms cannot protect against every form of STD, it is also important to limit the number of sexual partners you have, and to be tested for STDs on a regular basis. Using a latex condom during sex can reduce the risk of getting HIV.
Myth - HIV antibody testing is unreliable.
Fact - Diagnosis of infection using antibody testing is one of the best-established concepts in medicine. HIV antibody tests exceeds the performance of most other infectious disease tests in both sensitivity (the ability of the screening test to give a positive finding when the person tested truly has the disease ) and specificity (the ability of the test to give a negative finding when the subjects tested are free of the disease under study).
Myth - AZT and other antiretroviral drugs, cause AIDS.
Fact - The vast majority of people with AIDS never received antiretroviral drugs, including those in developed countries prior to the licensure of AZT in 1987, and people in developing countries today where very few individuals have access to these medications (UNAIDS 2000). As with medications for any serious diseases, antiretroviral drugs can have toxic side effects. However, there is no evidence that antiretroviral drugs cause severe immunosuppression that typifies AIDS, and abundant evidence that antiretroviral therapy, when used according to established guidelines, can improve the length and quality of life of HIV-infected individuals.
Myth - Sex with a virgin can cure HIV.
Fact - This myth is common in some parts of the world, and it is totally untrue. The myth has resulted in many rapes of young girls and children by HIV+ men, who often infect their victims. Rape won't cure anything and is a serious crime all around the world.
Myth - AIDS can be contracted through non-sexual physical contact like hug, kiss, hand-shake or by sharing toilet seats, utensils, mosquito bites, etc.
Fact - HIV or AIDS does not occur by any of the above. In fact, unprotected sexual relations or multiple partners are a major cause for people getting infected with HIV.
Myth – HIV/AIDS is curable.
Fact - It will be quite a while before an effective vaccine for AIDS and HIV is developed. The medications that are available right now can only delay the transformation of HIV into full-blown AIDS and not cure it.
DR. VARSHA V. SHARMA MD (Hom.)
139/B, Sindhi Society,
Opp. Bhakti Bhavan Bus Stop,
Chembur, Mumbai – 400071
Cell: 9869047078 / 9967647078
About the Author-
Dr. Varsha V. Sharma, MD (Hom), teaching at YMT Homoeopathic Medical College at Navi Mumbai since, last 7-8yrs. Practicing Homoeopathy & counseling at Chembur, Bandra & Vashi. Online Editor of Medical books & medical sites. Author of Homoeopathic book on Materia Medica. Author of several articles in various journals, magazines & sites.