THE World Health organization has designated Dec. 1 as the annual World AIDS Day since 1988. The AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) pandemic is caused by the spread of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection. In October 2019, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) revealed that the Philippines has the fastest growing number of HIV cases in the world.
By the end of 2018, UNAIDS recorded 13,384 new HIV infections. Today, there are 77,000 people living with HIV in the country but only 62,029 have been diagnosed and reported.
One of the factors that affect the HIV epidemic is a low level of knowledge on how HIV is transmitted and prevented.
Here are five fast facts to help debunk the common myths about HIV.
There is no cure for HIV.
Herbal remedies don’t cure HIV. Only antiretroviral treatment can keep HIV under control. While antiretroviral drugs can help HIV-positive people live longer, some of them have serious side effects and are expensive. There are also drug-resistant strains of HIV that make treatment harder.
HIV can’t be contracted through casual contact.
You can’t catch HIV by being around HIV-positive people as the virus can’t survive in water and air or anywhere outside the body. It can be passed on only through blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk—not through sweat, saliva, sharing cutlery or towels.
Undetectable = untransmittable.
When the treatments work well, the amount of virus in the bloodstream is lowered to a level that’s undetectable in blood tests. Those who are under effective antiretroviral treatment can’t pass HIV on to others through sex.
PrEP and condoms work.
If you’re having sex, the only way to stay in control and HIV-free is to use condoms or take pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)–not by showering after sex, using contraceptive pills or having sex only with a virgin. When taken correctly, PrEP can protect HIV-negative people from the virus before potential exposure.
HIV infection can be asymptomatic.
There are three stages of HIV infection. Stage 1 is when you experience flu-like symptoms. Stage 2 is the asymptomatic stage which can last for 10 years or more. Stage 3 is when the body’s immune system is severely damaged and the person develops opportunistic infections. HIV is usually transmitted by people who don’t know they have it.
Don’t let fear and incorrect information keep you from getting tested. In Cebu, LoveYourself White House offers free counseling and rapid HIV testing. Located at 40 Don Julio Llorente St., Cebu City, it is open from Wednesday to Sunday, from 12 to 8 p.m.