Hot showers protect against HIV? Some myths are so bizarre that they are easy to debunk. Others are trickier: can you get HIV via oral sex? Is there a difference between HIV and AIDS? Let’s get it straight to stay safe.
1) HIV and AIDS are not the same.
Often mistakenly used as synonyms, these are actually two very different things. HIV is a virus you can get through unprotected sex, shared needles, blood transfusions, and mother-to-child transmission. If left untreated, it attacks and gradually destroys your immune system. This can lead to the outbreak of AIDS, a set of symptoms which follows the destruction of the immune system. However, with antiretroviral treatment (ART), the HI virus won’t be able to have this effect, and an HIV positive person who receives treatment in time most likely will not develop AIDS. This makes regular testing and access to ART very important!
2) You can get HIV through oral sex.
Even though HIV is transmitted more easily through vaginal and anal intercourse, oral sex still bears a risk, particularly when you have sores in your mouth or genital area, or when there is menstrual blood involved. As well as HIV, there are a range of other nasty STIs which are transmitted even more easily via oral sex: for example chlamydia, which can cause infertility if not treated.
3) HIV is not a ‘gay disease’…
… nor does it affect only people using drugs, or engaging in sex work. In sub-Saharan Africa, these populations make up only a quarter of people living with HIV.
Around half of the people living with HIV worldwide are women. They are often infected by their partner or spouse. Women also bear the bigger burden of HIV in several aspects: they have less access to financial resources and health care, and face more social stigma. Also, when a family member or partner is infected and falls sick, care work is mostly burdened upon women.
4) A healthy baby is possible even when you’re positive.
Pregnant women can transmit the virus to the foetus, or when breastfeeding their baby. However, antiretroviral medicines can reduce the risk dramatically if treatment begins in time. The highest risk is the lack of access to such treatments. Only 39% of HIV positive pregnant women receive such treatment in West and Central Africa.
5) There is a way to reduce the risk of HIV after a risk situation.
However, contrary to a popular myth, a hot shower after sex won’t get rid of the virus! Neither will the morning after pill, a coca cola wash, drinking spirits, disinfecting your genitals, sex with a virgin, or spells and herbs. The only way to reduce the risk of contracting HIV after a risk situation is PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis). This means taking antiretroviral medicines (ART) starting as soon as possible after the risk situation. Here as well, information and access is key.
6) A negative HIV test doesn’t always mean you are HIV negative.
The virus can be securely detected only 6 to 12 weeks after infection (depending on the type of blood test). This means if someone gets a negative result today but had unprotected sex two weeks ago, they could still be HIV positive – and highly contagious. Therefore, always opt for condoms and safe practices, and get tested with your partner after 3 months into a monogamous relationship should you agree on using contraceptive methods other than condoms.
7) Random list of things that do NOT transmit HIV
All of us have heard some of these, be it from an odd relative or a dodgy Facebook post. But, once and for all, none of the following carries a risk for HIV transmission:
Cutlery and glasses
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