Fear related to HIV and AIDS is almost as old as the disease itself. Unfortunately, this stigma isn’t just limited to the general public, but also spills over into the healthcare setting, as well. As an AIDS Service Organization (ASO), Mālama Pono Health Services (MPHS) is always working to help correct the misinformation and fight the stigma that exists in our community.
One of the most common myths of HIV/AIDS is that it can be transmitted through casual contact with someone that has the virus, and this could not be further from the truth. First, let’s debunk some of the myths that are out there: HIV does not survive long outside the human body (such as on surfaces), and it cannot reproduce. It is not spread by:
- Air or water.
- Insects, including mosquitoes or ticks.
- Saliva, tears, or sweat.
- Casual contact like shaking hands or sharing dishes.
- Closed-mouth or “social” kissing
- Toilet seats.
The fact is, the transmission of HIV is very hard. Only certain fluids carry the virus live—blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk- and transmission has to occur with limited or contact with air. These fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane or cut or be directly injected into the bloodstream (from a needle or syringe) for transmission to possibly occur. Mucous membranes can be found inside the rectum, the vagina, the opening of the penis, and the mouth. The two most common ways to contract the HIV are having sex without a condom with someone who has HIV or sharing needles or syringes for injection drug use with someone who has HIV.
Knowing how HIV is transmitted is just part of the process of protecting yourself. The second is using that practicing safe sex. But there is a third way- standing up and fighting stigma and ignorance. Discrimination against people living with HIV or AIDS leads to risks that may not be known. People with HIV are more likely to not share their status if they think they will be judged. People who believe they will be ostracized or left our may not take their medications or seek care for fear others will find out. Untreated HIV allows the virus to flourish and makes the person with the virus more contagious and wreaks havoc on their body leading to possible earlier death. People with HIV can live happy and productive lives. They can love. They can work. They can care for others as an active part of the community- but only if those who are in the community allow them- socially and emotionally.
Take the time to know about HIV. Make the time to get tested and practice safer sex. Fight HIV stigma by embracing those who live with the virus. There are many ways to do this, you just have to find yours.