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Combating Stigma: Debunking 5 common myths about HIV

Updated: Feb 2

By: Liberty-Ann Shelton, PharmD Candidate



When I think about stigma and discrimination in healthcare, HIV is one of the first things that comes to mind. An HIV diagnosis can cause fear and isolation in individuals dealing with HIV or at risk for HIV. To combat this stigma and discrimination, I have written this piece to address some common myths about HIV.


Myth #1: Only gay men can get HIV.

  • This is false. While most new HIV diagnoses are from male-to-male sexual contact, other groups of individuals are at risk of HIV as well. (1) These groups include those who participate in anal or vaginal sex with someone that is HIV positive without using protection or sharing needles or other drug injection equipment. (2)


Myth #2: HIV can be spread through the air or by hugging someone who has HIV.

  • The virus that causes HIV cannot last long on surfaces or outside of the human body. Below is a list of the ways HIV is not spread. (3)


Myth #3: Once you’re diagnosed with HIV, you can’t live a normal life.

  • There is no cure for HIV, but there are medications that lower the amount of virus in the body, allowing someone to live a healthy life and reducing the risk of giving the virus to someone else. (4) These medications are called antiretroviral therapies. The life expectancy for those with HIV has greatly increased due to these medications. (5)


Myth #4: Those medications are too expensive for normal people.


Myth #5: HIV can’t be prevented.

  • Those at a higher risk of getting HIV can take medications that lowers their risk of getting HIV through sexual contact or sharing drug injection equipment. (6) PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, is the treatment regimen that can reduce a person’s risk of HIV. When taken as prescribed, it can reduce a person’s risk of getting HIV by at least 74%. (6)


The first step to addressing HIV stigma is to talk about it and learn more. Being equipped to discuss HIV and educate others is a powerful tool to end the discrimination surrounding the disease. I encourage you to share the myths debunked in this blog to advocate for those dealing with HIV or at risk of getting HIV.



References

1. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/group/gender/men/index.html

2. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/hiv-transmission/ways-people-get-hiv.html

4. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/hiv-aids/living-hiv

6. https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/hiv-prevention/using-hiv-medication-to-reduce-risk/pre-exposure-prophylaxis


Short Bio about Author: Liberty-Ann Shelton

Liberty-Ann Shelton is a Doctor of Pharmacy Student at Purdue University. Upon graduating in May 2023, Liberty-Ann will pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry, helping to bring awareness of products to patients and providers, specifically in communities of color.

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