6 common misunderstandings about AIDS


December 1 this year is the 36th World AIDS Day. This year’s theme is “Gathering Social Power to Fight AIDS Together.”

Regarding AIDS, people still have many misunderstandings, such as "sharing toilets and swimming pools with AIDS patients will lead to AIDS" and "only sexual contact can transmit the HIV virus"... We have compiled some common misconceptions to help you correctly understand Understanding AIDS, only with correct understanding can we better prevent it.

Can AIDS be cured?

There is currently no fundamental cure for AIDS, but antiviral treatment can effectively control the virus, allowing patients to live relatively healthy lives, improving their quality of life, and extending their lives.

Scientists are working hard to eventually find a cure for AIDS. Importantly, early diagnosis, prompt access to treatment and ongoing monitoring are critical to the control and management of HIV and AIDS.

Sharing toilets and swimming pools with HIV-infected or AIDS patients, is the risk of infection high?

HIV is not spread through ordinary social contact, air, water, food, toilets or swimming pools. The virus is mainly spread through blood, sexual behavior, shared syringes, and mother-to-child transmission. Therefore, using public facilities with people living with HIV or AIDS does not increase the risk of infection.

Although general social contact does not lead to HIV infection, it is still necessary to maintain basic hygiene habits, such as frequent hand washing, to prevent the spread of other diseases. Understanding how HIV is transmitted can help reduce unnecessary panic and misunderstandings and promote inclusion and support for people living with HIV and AIDS.

Is there a “window period” for HIV testing?

The “window period” for HIV testing is when after infection with HIV, the virus enters the body but has not yet produced sufficient amounts of antibodies in the blood to be detected by standard HIV antibody tests. The duration of the window period varies between individuals and different detection methods, but nucleic acids can usually be detected around 10 days after infection.

The importance of the window period is that an HIV antibody test taken during this period may give a false-negative result, meaning that the infected person actually has HIV. This is because antibody testing relies on detecting HIV antibodies produced by the body, and antibody levels may not be high enough during the window period to be detected.

To reduce the risk of false-negative results, it is sometimes necessary to use other HIV testing methods, such as nucleic acid testing (NAT) or combined antigen-antibody testing (Fourth Generation HIV Test). These tests can detect HIV at an earlier stage after infection, reducing the impact of the window period.

Therefore, if you are concerned that you may have been infected with HIV, it is recommended to speak to a healthcare professional who can advise you on suitable testing and explain the concept of window periods to ensure an accurate test result. If you test negative during the window period, you may need to retest after the window period ends to confirm the result.

HIV can only be transmitted through sexual contact?

HIV can be spread in many other ways, and sexual contact is not the only way. Here are some ways HIV is transmitted:

  • Sex: HIV can be spread through unsafe sex, including oral, anal, and vaginal sex. Anyone, whether heterosexual, gay, or bisexual, can become infected with HIV if one of them is infected with the virus and does not take appropriate precautions.
  • Sharing syringes: Using HIV-infected syringes or needles to inject drugs is a high-risk behavior because it can lead to the spread of HIV. Not limited to drug users, it may also involve syringe sharing or unsterile syringes in medical practices.
  • Mother-to-child transmission: A pregnant woman infected with HIV can pass the virus to her baby during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. However, the risk of this transmission can be significantly reduced by receiving appropriate medical care, antiviral treatment, and maternal and infant preventive measures.
  • Blood and blood products: Contact with contaminated blood or blood products, such as unsterile syringes, transfusions, or substandard blood products, may also lead to HIV transmission.

It is important to provide correct information and educate people on appropriate preventive measures such as using condoms, avoiding sharing syringes, getting tested for HIV, and providing maternal and child prophylaxis to reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

Once infected with HIV, is it destined to develop AIDS?

Not everyone with HIV will develop AIDS. Prompt receipt of antiviral treatment, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and monitoring immune system function can effectively delay the progression of the disease.

Three stages of HIV infection:

  1. Acute infection period: After acute HIV infection, symptoms such as fever, sore throat, nausea, and joint pain may occur, lasting from 1 to 3 weeks. HIV antibodies are still negative at this time, usually called the window period, and HIV nucleic acid can be detected about 10 days after infection. At this time, it is often easy to ignore these symptoms and mistake them for a "common cold." High-risk groups who have experienced such conditions need to undergo HIV-related testing systematically as soon as possible.
  2. Asymptomatic period: that is, after the acute infection period, many HIV-infected people may not have any obvious symptoms for a long period of time. This is called the asymptomatic period. During this period, the virus continues to disrupt immune function but may not cause obvious clinical symptoms.
  3. AIDS Stage: If left untreated, HIV infection may eventually develop into AIDS. AIDS is a state in which the immune system is severely compromised and patients are susceptible to serious diseases and malignant tumors.

Individual Differences: Everyone’s immune system and viral response are different. Some people may develop AIDS years later, while others may develop AIDS relatively quickly after infection. Therefore, the time span varies from person to person.

In short, HIV infection does not necessarily mean that you will develop AIDS. Prompt receipt of antiviral treatment, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, following medical advice, and monitoring immune system function can help patients delay or avoid progression to AIDS. Therefore, it is important to have early diagnosis, treatment, and regular medical monitoring to minimize the risk of HIV infection.

Only people with obvious symptoms need to be tested for HIV?

One of the hallmarks of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection is that many people may have no obvious symptoms during the early stages of infection. But HIV infection is associated with high-risk sexual behavior. Therefore, it is unwise to wait until obvious symptoms appear before getting an HIV test.

Importance of Early Diagnosis: Early diagnosis is critical for early initiation of antiviral treatment, reducing the risk of HIV transmission, and improving patient quality of life. Therefore, it is recommended that anyone at risk of HIV infection get regular HIV testing without waiting until obvious symptoms appear. The sooner antiviral treatment is started after diagnosis, the less damaging it will be to the body's immune function. Most patients who are diagnosed late often require more medical resources to treat, and some patients may have poor outcomes.

Self-protection and public health: Through early HIV testing, individuals can know their HIV status and take appropriate preventive measures. In addition, early diagnosis can also help reduce the spread of the virus, thereby helping to control the epidemic.

In summary, it is unwise to wait until obvious symptoms appear before getting an HIV test because HIV infection can occur during the latent and asymptomatic periods. Regular HIV testing is an important strategy to prevent and control HIV transmission, especially for those in high-risk groups. Early diagnosis improves an individual's health and contributes to public health.

These myth-busting efforts help dispel misconceptions about HIV, provide accurate information, and lead to a better understanding of the correct ways to prevent, test, and manage the disease. Timely access to accurate information is critical to reducing social stigma and panic about HIV and taking preventive measures. By educating and disseminating correct knowledge, we can reduce discrimination, panic and the spread of the virus, thereby better controlling and preventing HIV.