1980s myths around HIV still ‘deeply entrenched’

1980s myths around HIV still ‘deeply entrenched’
Local, National News
Posted on 1 Dec 2016

World AIDS Day survey reveals 30% of gay and bisexual men believe you can get HIV from sharing a toothbrush - and 1 in 10 think it’s passed on through kissing.

On World AIDS Day, a survey by Terrence Higgins Trust has revealed the extent to which myths and inaccuracies about HIV are still prevalent among gay and bisexual men in Great Britain.

The charity has warned that public perceptions are still mirroring those seen in the 1980s, despite the medical progress that has been made in the fight against HIV over the last three decades.

The YouGov survey of over 2,000 adults (including 118 gay and bisexual men) showed that 30% of male gay and bisexual respondents believe that sharing a toothbrush with someone who is HIV positive can pass on the virus. Meanwhile one in ten gay and bisexual men surveyed believed HIV can be transmitted by kissing.

All of these are medically inaccurate; the virus does not survive outside the body and cannot be passed on through saliva or skin-to-skin contact.

Ian Green, Chief Executive of  Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “We’ve come a long way since the AIDS crisis first emerged, when the nation was gripped by panic and fear.

“Thankfully, we now know far more about how HIV is and is not transmitted, and medical advances now mean HIV doesn’t have to stand in the way of living a long and healthy life.

“But it’s not over – while science has moved on, we can see today that inaccurate myths from the 1980s are still deeply entrenched in society, both in terms of how HIV is transmitted, and what it’s like to live with HIV.

“Misunderstanding of the virus can fuel stigma and cause immense distress for people coming to terms with an HIV diagnosis.  Much more needs to be done to bring the British public up to date with what HIV means in 2016."

The survey also revealed public perceptions do not reflect how far HIV treatment itself has come in the past 30 years.

Effective treatment works by reducing the amount of the virus in the blood to undetectable levels, meaning it can’t be passed on at all, and people can expect to live as long as anyone else. 

However, only 29% of the gay and bisexual men surveyed were aware that people on effective HIV treatment can have children without passing on the virus, and only 61%believe that people with HIV can live into old age. 

Less than half (45%) of gay and bisexual men surveyed were aware that people with HIV can have sex without passing on the virus, if they are on effective treatment.

Meanwhile, only 1 in 4 (24%) gay and bisexual men in the YouGov survey agreed that there was currently an HIV epidemic in the UK.  A majority (68%) disagreed.

On World AIDS Day, the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity is urging people to wear red ribbons to show that the fight against HIV is not over and to tackle the last barriers – stigma, and complacency.

Ian added: “The HIV epidemic is not over in the UK – there are more people living with HIV in the UK today than ever before. We must not let complacency and misunderstanding undo decades of progress. On World AIDS Day, it’s more important than ever that we’re still fighting, still caring, and still wearing our red ribbons with pride.”

Find out more about World AIDS Day at www.tht.org.uk/worldaidsday or search #itsnotover.

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