ALTHOUGH HIV INFECTION HAS BEEN SPEAKED ACTIVELY IN THE EIGHTY, it is believed that the first case of human infection with the immunodeficiency virus occurred back in 1959. Since then, the disease has turned from an inevitably fatal to a chronic one, and there are many more drugs that effectively suppress the virus. Nevertheless, questions and misconceptions around HIV persist, so we will try to sort out the most common ones. We are sure that you do not believe in the most incredible myth that HIV does not exist.
Only men who have sex with men and drug users can get HIV
People who inject drugs have long been considered the main risk group because HIV is most easily transmitted through blood. But the situation has changed – in 2018, 93% of all those who applied for HIV-related care in the UK became infected through sexual contact. Half of them are men who have sex with men; it is this formulation that is now accepted to describe the risk group. And yet, about half of HIV transmission cases are heterosexual contacts, which means that the stereotype about carriers of the infection is high time to reconsider.
You can always get infected from a person with HIV
The evidence that suppression of the viral load (that is, a low number of viral particles in the blood) also reduces the risk of transmission has been accumulating since the nineties, but in recent years it has become completely clear: a person with an undetectable virus cannot transmit it to another. Worldwide run campaign Undetectable = Untransmittable, or H = H in the Russian language version (undetectable = backlog). If a person is constantly on antiretroviral therapy, and a low viral load is regularly confirmed by test results, then even unprotected sex will not lead to infection. Under the same conditions , people living with HIV give birth to children who do not have the virus.
Condoms are the only way to prevent
There is drug prophylaxis – pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), when medications are taken before presumably dangerous contacts, and post-exposure. According to official guidelines, PrEP is not a replacement for condoms, but experts admit that sometimes it does; for example, there are women who are afraid of being infected by their husbands but cannot convince him to use condoms. In this case, drug prevention is better than its absence, although it will not give a full guarantee.
Mosquitoes carry HIV
HIV is bloodborne, and mosquitoes suck blood – it seems logical that they can carry the virus. But not everything is so simple: for the reproduction of HIV, cells with a molecular marker CD4 on the surface are required (these are primarily human lymphocytes). Mosquitoes, bedbugs, ticks and other blood-sucking insects and arachnids do not have such cells , so the virus cannot multiply in their body. Mechanical transfer of the virus from one person to another is also excluded – it simply will not survive on the insect’s blood-sucking apparatus. We add that there were no reported cases of HIV transmission through saliva, sweat, tears, common items, phones, pool water or toilet seat.
You can get HIV during a manicure or at the dentist
In the air, the virus completely loses its activity in a few hours; if the full cycle of sterilization of instruments for some reason was violated, we can talk about the risk of other infections (for example, hepatitis viruses), but not HIV. Therefore, the legends about intentional infection with needles left in the cinema or on the railing of the entrance have no basis. In theory, medical personnel have a higher risk of infection: not all patients report their status, and even the most careful doctor can sometimes cut himself with an instrument that has gotten the patient’s blood. Yet the risk of HIV transmission from patient to dentist or vice versa is considered minimal.
A child with HIV can infect another by biting or scratching
Possible infection through a bite is extremely rare – and it is usually assumed that saliva has been mixed with blood, for example, if there is a sore in the mouth. A large systematic review found nine cases worldwide in which HIV infection was diagnosed after being bitten – and only four of these were confirmed or highly probable for infection through a bite. At the same time, three bites were inflicted in a fight with serious wounds, and two more people were injured while trying to provide first aid for convulsions. The authors concluded that post-exposure prophylaxis after a bite is indicated only in extreme circumstances – it is unlikely that childhood bites can be attributed to them .
Can get infected if blood or semen gets on your skin or mouth
If the blood of a person with HIV comes in contact with intact skin or healthy people, infection will not occur. With oral sex, the risk of transmitting the virus is considered extremely low, but still exists, especially when ejaculating into the mouth and in the presence of sores or sores on the mucous membrane. True, the risk cannot be fully calculated: oral sex is often combined with anal or vaginal sex. It is important to protect yourself from other infections by using condoms and latex wipes, and also regularly visit the dentist and monitor your oral health.
HIV leads to rapid death
Until now, it is generally accepted that people with HIV-positive status live short lives, and their lives are fraught with pain and suffering. But already in 2011, the life expectancy of people with HIV was seventy years. A Swiss study found that modern antiretroviral combination therapy adds nearly fifty-five years of life to those diagnosed with HIV at the age of twenty. Note that this is due not only to the effectiveness, but also to the convenience of therapy: when combined ART looks like just one pill a day, the likelihood that a person will stop taking it is greatly reduced.
People with HIV cannot donate
HIV infection is indeed a contraindication to blood donation; given that the donor may not be aware of the presence of the virus, blood is always tested for this and other infections. But the first sperm bank of HIV-positive donors already exists . It opened in New Zealand to combat the stigma associated with the disease. All donors are people with undetectable viral load.
Pharmaceutical companies are unprofitable for effective drugs
In fact, companies benefit very much from effective drugs and vaccines – such a development will lead to large government contracts, not to mention its importance to reputation. Although there has not yet been a breakthrough in terms of completely getting rid of the virus, ART is constantly being improved, and laboratories are actively working on future vaccines. We talked about why it is so difficult to develop antiviral drugs – one of the reasons is that viral RNA is inserted into cells in place of a human.