Dispelling HIV Treatment Myths

Menstuff® has compiled the following information on HIV treatment myths.

Dispelling HIV Treatment Myths
Letter to the Time Magazine Editor
Despite AIDS research and education, some myths still remain

Dispelling HIV Treatment Myths


More than 20 years after the AIDS epidemic began, the rates of new HIV infections continue to increase -- especially in the African American and Latino/a communities and among men who have sex with men (MSM).

A recent study of MSM and barebacking conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that approximately 14 percent of MSM intentionally seek out and have unprotected anal sex, and this does not even include MSM who have unplanned unsafe sex. While a feeling of greater intimacy and more physical stimulation were the primary reasons MSM gave for seeking out unprotected anal sex, 19 percent of the participants who had barebacked said that improved treatments caused them to have more unprotected sex.

"Way too many people out there are having unprotected sex because there are still over 40,000 new cases of HIV each year. And too many of those cases are among young, gay men," says Susan C. Ball, M.D., M.P.H., assistant director of the Birnbaum Unit HIV Care Center at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Regardless of whether or not HIV is a chronic disease, "it is still a big killer," she warns.

While treatments have advanced HIV care by prolonging, improving and saving lives, there are some misconceptions about what antiviral medications can and can’t do. Antiviral medications don’t cure HIV or AIDS. Here are some of the other common -- and dangerous -- HIV treatment myths.

MYTH #1

HIV medications prevent HIV transmission because a low viral load equals no risk of passing HIV between partners.WRONG!

According to the CDC study, 19 percent of MSM surveyed said that improved treatments caused them to have more unprotected sex. Some men may falsely believe having unprotected sex with an HIV positive man is safe because medications prevent HIV transmission.

"There is no doubt that a lower viral load corresponds to less risk. But we also know that viral loads often "blip" up -- even in people who are faithfully taking their medication and have steadily undetectable readings," says Dr. Ball. "No doctor would tell someone that unprotected sex is safe even if both partners have undetectable viral loads." The problem is you can't ever know when a "blip" is going to occur and this should be of concern when one is thinking of having unsafe sex, she adds.

Unsafe receptive sex has the highest incidences of viral transmission, explains Dr. Ball. "I tell patients that it only takes one virus. In people having unsafe sex with someone who is on medication, that one virus may be a resistant virus and while HIV is no fun either way you put it, having a resistant virus makes finding an effective regimen all the more difficult."

MYTH #2

I can have unsafe sex because I’m already positive and I take HIV medications so it’s not like I can get re-infected.WRONG!

Not only can you get re-infected, you can get infected with a drug resistant strain of HIV. "If you are having sex you can certainly receive a dose of virus from someone else. It is well known that resistant virus can be passed back and forth even in people who are taking medications," says Dr. Ball. As a result, you are not only putting your partners at risk by exposing them to HIV you are also putting your own health and treatment in jeopardy.

It's not just HIV you should be worried about. Forgoing condoms puts you and your partners at risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Several studies have found that STD infections are associated with HIV, and STDs may increase your risk of passing HIV between partners.

MYTH #3

Taking medications for treating HIV is as easy as taking daily vitamins.NOT LIKELY!

Talk to someone who is taking antiretroviral medications and you will likely rethink this notion. "I am grateful for having these medications because I don’t think I would be alive today without them. At the same time, I look at the pills everyday with some resentment," says John, a 27 year old producer in New York City. "I just get so sick of it, of feeling so dependent on medicine. And then there are the times when I am terribly sick from all of the pills."

The challenges of medication adherence go far beyond just remembering to pop pills everyday. For those taking dozens of pills daily there can be dietary restrictions and unpleasant side effects such as nausea and diarrhea. Others may have to set their alarms for the middle of the night to take their dose on time. "When I hear people say they don't care if they get HIV because it's treatable, I get so angry. I have to stay on these medications for the rest of my life," says John.
Source: Sarah Albert, www.gayhealth.com/templates/1115827435279264993965/sex/aids?record=760

Letter to the Time Magazine Editor

Editor
Time Magazine
letters@time.com

We were surprised to see that the list of the “10 Biggest Medical Breakthroughs” in your December 24 issue (Catherine Guthrie, p. 84) included as number 2 “circumcision can prevent HIV.” In fact, the three studies that purport to show this suffer from fatal flaws that have been pointed to by numerous physicians and even leading HIV organizations in Australia and France. Recent reports indicate that the United Nations and other influential bodies have significantly exaggerated the number of people affected by HIV and AIDS. Moreover, for well over a decade the number of new individuals being infected with HIV has been in decline.

The most common medical procedure in the US is the only one never shown to be medically justified to stop HIV or for any other reason. It is untenable, bordering on absurd, to suggest that flawed results regarding adult circumcision in Africa are remotely applicable to circumcision of infants in the US. Modalities of transmission and sociological conditions are vastly different. In Africa, one of the most common ways to become infected is through a visit to a health clinic! Moreover, the circumcision experiment has already been tried and failed here, as the US has both the highest circ rate and the highest HIV rate in the developed world.

With your position as one of the world’s premier news journals comes the responsibility to investigate and publish the truth. We ask that you set the record straight on this issue.

J. Steven Svoboda
Attorneys for the Rights of the Child
2961 Ashby Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94705
510.595.5550
arc@post.harvard.edu

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