Being diagnosed with HIV was once seen as a “death sentence”, but new research proves this idea is most definitely outdated.
Researchers looked at data of more than 88,000 people with HIV and found that young people receiving treatment now have a “near-normal” life expectancy thanks to improvements in antiretroviral therapy.
A 20-year-old patient starting therapy today is expected to live to 78 years old, similar to the general population, which has a life expectancy of 81 years.
Improved treatments now mean that for many men and women, their HIV is undetectable - meaning the HIV levels in their blood are so low they cannot be detected by tests used to measure viral load and that the disease cannot be passed on through sexual intercourse or to a new generation.
Despite these huge steps forward, there are still many misconceptions around HIV. To change this and challenge stigma, here are seven things people with HIV want you to know.
1. It doesn’t make you a bad person.
Gus Cairns, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1985, wants the media and the public to stop villainising those affected.
“People with HIV have come to signify danger. To mix in a risky metaphor, we’re seen as the viral terrorists walking among you, our virus primed to explode,” he blogged on HuffPost UK.
“Untrue. We’re not bad people. Anyone can catch HIV in an unguarded moment, during a bad period in their lives or just through bad luck.”
2. Women get HIV too.
Ann Marie Byrne, a grandmother and campaigner who is living with HIV, believes “women are often forgotten” when discussions about HIV take place, both in everyday conversation and in the media.
“We are considered to be a lower risk group than say gay men and yet as women we are stigmatised as much if not more as the media often portray us as ‘promiscuous’ and deserving of contracting this virus,” she previously said.
“[People on] social media use words like ‘Karma’ and speak of ‘this disgusting disease’. We are portrayed as being ‘dirty’ and less worthy of sympathy than women living with other medical conditions because of our so called ‘lifestyle choices’ which of course, is totally untrue.”
3. You can still have a family.
In 2015 Andrew Pulsipher, from Phoenix, US, posted a photo of himself with his wife and three healthy children to dispel myths that having HIV means you can’t have children.
Pulsipher has been HIV positive since birth, having had the disease passed on from his parents. He and his wife had their three children through fertility treatment.
“Having a negative family can be the most positive thing in your life” he said.
“I know HIV has a negative stigma, but that it doesn’t have to and I want to help change that. It is a treatable disease and you can live a normal life with it. I am proof of that.”
4. Sex education isn’t good enough.
HIV campaigner James Hanson was diagnosed with the illness at the age of 18 and says more needs to be done to educate LGBT+ teenagers on the risks.
“I strongly believe the education system fails young LGBTI+ people every day,” he blogged on HuffPost UK.
“We have won the battle of equal age of consent and equal marriage in the UK, the next fight is to make inclusive SRE compulsory in all schools.
“The education system has one of the biggest influences on young people’s lives, therefore they have a real key responsibility to make sure young LGBT+ people are leaving school with the [information] they need for life.”
5. There’s a lot of shame involved with HIV.
Paul Thorn set up the radio show HIV Happy Hour to raise awareness of what it’s really like to live with the illness.
He told HuffPost UK learning to manage internalised shame is a huge challenge after diagnosis.
“I lived for many years feeling ashamed because I have HIV. It has prevented me from going for jobs that I wanted and seeking relationships with people who I found attractive because I thought they wouldn’t would want me,” he said.
“That kind of feeling can exist in the very core of you to the point that you can’t stand the sight of yourself in the mirror. It has taken me many years to realise that I am worth something and to start caring about myself, maybe even love myself a little.”
6. You can still get tattoos.
There are no documented cases of HIV transmission due to tattooing, but due to common misconceptions around the illness many people do not realise this.
Rob Curtis previously told HuffPost UK of how he was turned away by a tattoo artist after telling the receptionist he was HIV positive.
“I was also really shocked that this would even be an issue. I had told the studio that I was HIV+ and taking anti-viral medication which means it’s not possible to infect someone else,” he said.
“The artist should have known this, so I felt really disappointed that she was letting her stigma get in the way of her art.”
7. Being diagnosed is a good thing.
Philip Christopher Baldwin was diagnosed with HIV in 2010 at the age of 24. He says being tested and receiving a positive diagnosis is better than living in ignorance.
“There are approximately 17,000 people in the UK who do not know their HIV status. If you are HIV positive and do not know, your health could be compromised. Two-fifths of HIV positive people in the UK are diagnosed late,” he blogged on HuffPost UK.
“By testing negative you put an end to any doubts that you may have about your HIV status. Test positive and you can start treatment, thereby ensuring you remain healthy.”