Here are six myths about HIV that need to be busted
It can’t have escaped your attention that this week is National HIV Testing Week.
All week, organisations across the country have been running activities and events to encourage gay and bi men to test for HIV, and to raise awareness of the importance of regular testing. So have you tested yet? And if not, why not?
Many of us find the thought of testing for HIV daunting. Sometimes it’s easy to convince yourself to put off testing and push HIV to the back of your mind. But if you’re a gay man the chances are you’ll come into contact with HIV at some point, and if you do contract the virus you need to know about it. That way you can start treatment as soon as you need to and expect to lead a normal lifespan.
The truth of living with HIV is often very different from what you imagine. Here are six common myths busted:
1) Myth: If I test HIV positive I’ll die early.
Truth: People with HIV can live as long as HIV negative people if they are diagnosed early and start treatment on time.
The longer you have undiagnosed HIV, the more likely you are to get ill and die early as you won’t be taking treatment. HIV weakens the immune system, so if you are undiagnosed it can cause damage without you getting symptoms straight away. When your immune system is badly damaged, you are more likely to get ill. So it’s important to test regularly, that way you can start treatment when you need it.
2) Myth: I don’t have time for an HIV test.
Truth: These days we have ‘rapid HIV tests’ and postal tests which are quick and easy.
Rapid HIV tests give results in minutes. Most sexual health clinics use them and so do community testing clinics run by Terrence Higgins Trust. These are available in places gay guys go such as bars, clubs and saunas. You can find your nearest testing clinic here. If you don’t have time to go to a clinic, you can order a postal test from startswithme.org.uk. Just post a finger-prick blood sample to the lab and you will get the result a few days later.
3) Myth: If I have HIV, it’s better not to know.
Truth: People who are diagnosed late die on average 10 years early.
As HIV damages your immune system, without treatment it leaves you vulnerable to serious illnesses and diseases. That’s why in the early days most people with HIV died from AIDS – because there was no treatment available. Now we have sophisticated treatment and many people take just one pill a day. Treatment should increase the number of immune system cells needed to keep you healthy. It should also reduce the amount of HIV in your body. If you have HIV and don’t know about it you can’t take steps to keep well.
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4) Myth: I don’t sleep with guys with HIV.
Truth: One in five gay and bisexual men with HIV doesn’t know their status. So guys you think are negative might not be, and they might not even know themselves. Also, HIV can take three months to be picked up by a test, so someone might wrongly think they are HIV negative. In some towns and cities over one in 10 men on the local gay scene has HIV, many of who don’t know it. And even if they do, they may not feel comfortable talking about it. So the chances of having sex with someone with HIV is quite high whether we realise it or not.
5) Myth: If I test HIV positive, I’ll have to deal with it alone.
Truth: There is a lot of support for people who are diagnosed with HIV.
Everyone with HIV is looked after by an HIV clinic where they have regular check-ups and see an HIV doctor several times a year. Clinics also offer emotional support as do organisations such as Terrence Higgins Trust, who offer online and telephone support and advice, support groups and counselling. Thousands are receiving support in person, by phone or through the myhiv.org.uk website. Many people with HIV also receive support from partners, friends and relatives.
6) Myth: I don’t need an HIV test. I don’t sleep around.
Truth: Many people get HIV after only a few partners or when in a relationship.
HIV is at least 25 times more common in the gay community than in the general population. This means having unprotected sex with only a few partners means a significant risk. People often get HIV when in relationships. Often they get it from a partner who has HIV without knowing. Sometimes a partner brings HIV into the relationship from outside. Regular testing means you both know your status and can take steps to look after your health, whatever your result.
The Terrence Higgins Trust is a PinkNews advertiser.