With the International AIDS Society conference converging here in Vancouver, new announcements about progress in treatment and prevention of the disease were made, shining a positive light on the research that’s being conducted globally in the fight against HIV.
Unfortunately, myths and misconceptions persist about HIV and AIDS and it is still largely stigmatized in society. General Manager of Viiv Healthcare Sebastien Leroux spoke to Vancity Buzz about what he believes are commonly held beliefs about the disease that are either outdated or just plain wrong.
A surprisingly large number of Canadians don’t understand how HIV is spread, said Leroux. The virus can only be transmitted through the exchange of certain bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal secretions, and blood. The disease can not be transferred through saliva, yet 18% of Canadians believe you can get it by sharing a glass with someone who has HIV and 28% believe it can be spread through kissing.
Even when fluids are exchanged that contain a high viral load, transmission still does not happen 100% of the time. Leroux stresses that preventative measures such as condoms are still the best way to avoid getting the disease.
With that said, it isn’t all bad news. Most Canadians understand the social stigma faced by people who have HIV.
“75% of Canadians think there is stigma and discrimination for people living with HIV, so those results were expected,” said Leroux.
Leroux says most Canadians still believe HIV will eventually turn into AIDS and result in a death sentence for the person diagnosed. However, with modern antiretroviral drugs, that is no longer the case, and many people who have an early diagnosis can live long, healthy lives.
“If you get diagnosed early, and you take your pills every day, then your life expectancy would be more or less the same as someone who does not have HIV.”
Because of modern medications, HIV may never turn into AIDS.
And while many people who have the virus live long lives, there is still no cure for it. Fifteen percent of Canadians believe that medications completely rid a person of HIV, which is incorrect.
While it was once true that HIV affected a high percentage of the gay population, that is no longer the case, said Leroux. Now numbers are climbing among heterosexual people.
“What we see, in reality, is actually more and more heterosexual people getting infected because they think there is less of a concern.”
Leroux said there is not a specific group within the heterosexual population that have growing HIV rates, but it is more or less across the board.
Having a baby if you are HIV positive does not mean the baby will carry the virus. In fact, it is so uncommon for babies to be born with HIV now that it is considered “unacceptable” for the baby to be born with the disease, said Leroux.
“We’ve made a lot of progress on this. We know now how to treat that, we have the medicines for that. If a pregnant woman is closely followed by specialists, there should not be any transmission to the newborn.”
Antiretroviral drugs are safe to take while pregnant and will help prevent passing HIV along to the newborn baby.
For more information on the IAS Conference, visit their webiste: iasociety.org