Debunking Myths About PrEP And HIV

Debunking Myths About PrEP And HIV

Imagine a world where HIV transmission is a thing of the past- it may sound like something out of a science fiction novel, but it could become our reality in just a few short years. Thanks to incredible advancements in medical science, we are making great strides towards this goal. Leading the charge of this motion is PrEP, a revolutionary medication that offers hope in preventing new cases of HIV infection! 

However, despite its effectiveness and growing popularity among at-risk communities worldwide, there are still many misconceptions that overshadow its true potential. Also, this is the reason why a major part of the heterosexual population is missing out on the benefits of PeEP.

In this blog, we invite you to join us as we dispel myths related to both AIDS and PrEP and discover its wonders! But before we begin debunking myths, let’s ensure that you have a comprehensive understanding of HIV and PrEP.

HIV: Is It A Life Sentence? 

HIV is often perceived as a devastating condition that leads to the end of life. However, this is not always the case. While HIV is a serious disease, individuals living with it can still have long and fulfilling lives. 

Now, there are indeed various health challenges and symptoms associated with HIV that can significantly impact one’s quality of life. Though, by receiving an early diagnosis, recognizing symptoms, and seeking appropriate tests and treatment, individuals living with HIV can greatly improve their day-to-day lives. Additionally, by understanding the factors that contribute to HIV spread and becoming familiar with the condition, we as a community can provide better support to our loved ones, and those affected. 

Whether it’s learning about HIV or sharing information related to its transmission and treatment, delving into these aspects not only raises awareness among readers. But it also contributes to the ongoing battle against the stigma associated with HIV.

All About HIV 

HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, is the cause of a condition known as AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.1 It is important to note that HIV and AIDS are not synonymous, although they are often used interchangeably. AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, is something that develops in more advanced stages of HIV infection but can be prevented if the infected individual gets an early diagnosis, followed by appropriate treatment.2

Coming back to HIV; now scientists believe that it existed as early as the 1800s and has come from chimpanzees.1

  • To be more specific, it is said to have been first acquired by humans in the central African region who contracted the virus when hunting chimpanzees for meat. As the chimpanzees carried a virus called simian immunodeficiency virus; their infected blood infected the humans (when the hunters came in contact with the chimpanzees’ infected blood).1 
  • Later in the year 1981 AIDS was recognized as a distinct disease in the US. This recognition came about as an increasing number of homosexual men began developing opportunistic infections and various types of cancer, leading to the identification of a new illness.3

Now that we all know where HIV has originated, let’s learn about some of its symptoms. 

Symptoms Of HIV

Typically, most people with HIV do not show any noticeable signs of infection, in the initial stages. However, when symptoms do occur, they can resemble those of a viral infection. This is why it is imperative for people who frequently engage in high HIV-risk behaviors to be aware of their health to avoid an infection.4,5

The initial set of HIV symptoms may include:4

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Throat infection or sore throat
  • Headache
  • Inflamed lymph nodes
  • Mouth sores or yeast infection (thrush)
  • Night sweats

Lastly, we’d like to advise you not to ASSUME that you have HIV if you’re experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms. These symptoms can also occur due to any other infection, illness, etc. Nonetheless, if you have a strong suspicion that you’ve been exposed to HIV then get tested ASAP!

Note: If an HIV-infected person doesn’t get medical attention, their condition can worsen causing the HIV to progress into later stages. When this happens, the infection causes an array of symptoms, all of which we’ll discuss in the next section.

3 Stages Of HIV Infection

In this section, we will not only explore the symptoms of HIV at every stage but will also unravel what exactly happens to the body as the infection progresses.

Stage 1: Acute HIV Infection6

  • It is the early most common form of HIV infection which occurs 2 to 4 weeks after getting exposed to the virus.
  • In this stage, the virus rises exponentially, causing symptoms such as fever, headache, etc.
  • As the virus grows throughout the body, it also starts attacking the cells that help in fighting off the infection, also known as CD4 cells ( which provide immunity).
  • As the viral load (amount of virus in blood7) is considerably high, the risk of transmitting HIV to another person is maximum during this stage.

Stage 2: Chronic HIV Infection6

  • At this stage, the HIV infection is called “asymptomatic HIV infection” or “clinic latency.”
  • During this stage, the virus multiplies at a much slower rate. (Despite being the alleged second stage of HIV infection, AIDS still doesn’t occur at this stage.)
  • If a patient with HIV reaches this stage of infection then they must get urgent treatment and medical care or else they may develop AIDS in the next 10 years (or sooner).

Stage 3: AIDS6

  • AIDS or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome is the “most advanced” and last stage of an HIV infection. 
  • During this stage, the immune system gets so weakened that the body of the infected individual can’t protect against opportunistic infections (the infections or illnesses that occur in HIV-infected people easily due to their weakened immune system8).
  • At this stage, most people infected with HIV get diagnosed with AIDS. The indicative signs often include a CD4 value of less than 200 cells/mm3 or experiencing frequent opportunistic infections.

Now that you’re acquainted with the symptoms and various stages of HIV, let’s debunk some of the myths associated with this virus.

Common HIV-Related Myths, Debunked!

Debunking HIV-related myths is essential because it helps to lessen the stigma and taboo against people living with the virus. 

Let’s take a look at some of these myths and uncover the facts behind them:9

Myth 1: HIV Can Be Diagnosed By Looking At The HIV-Infected Individual

HIV cannot be diagnosed by merely observing an infected individual. The virus can only be detected through a blood test, and no one, not even a doctor, can determine its presence by visual examination.

Myth 2: HIV Often Infects People Of A Certain Sexual Orientation

Although this myth is often associated with homosexual men, it is important to note that anyone can contract HIV. People engaging in certain HIV-risk behaviors are at an increased risk of acquiring the virus:

  • Accidental needle or syringe sticks at hospitals, clinics, etc.
  • Unprotected anal or vaginal sex
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
  • Sharing needles or syringes
  • Blood transfusions or tissue transplants
  • Contaminated piercings
  • Tattoo with unhygienic needles

Myth 3: HIV Comes In The Way Of Pregnancy & Fertility

A mother can pass HIV infection to the baby through pregnancy, childbirth, and even breastfeeding. However, the chances of transmission can be lowered, if the mother takes HIV medication such as PrEP to lessen the viral load.10 

So, if you’re an individual with HIV and want to conceive, talking to your doctor about getting relevant treatment options to protect your future baby from the virus would be the best thing to do!

Myth 4: Using PrEP Means You Can Avoid Condoms

Now, you need to note that PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a medication that solely helps against HIV and no other disease or STIs. So when you take PrEP it’ll only help you avoid one kind of virus and you’d still be vulnerable to contracting other sexually transmitted diseases and viruses. 

All in all, using condoms and other barrier methods while having sex must be practiced even though you’re taking PeEP for HIV.11 

Myth 5: If Both The Partners Have HIV Then They Don’t Need Condoms To Have Sex

Just as mentioned above, condoms are essential for protection. It doesn’t matter whether both partners have HIV or only one does. As, using condoms not only provides protection against other STIs (along with HIV), but it also potentially prevents reinfection (when two HIV-positive individuals have unprotected sex and contract or transmit a new virus to the other or vice versa).12 

We strongly recommend you ACTIVELY use condoms so that you (or your partner) can lower the probability of reinfection or any other STIs.

Myth 6: HIV Can Be Cured By PrEP

We would love for this statement to become our reality, but unfortunately, it isn’t true. Most people may think that HIV can be cured by PrEP due to its ability to prevent the virus. However, what many may not know is that PrEP is a type of antiretroviral that acts as NRTI (nucleoside/nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors). 

Myth 7: HIV Can Be Spread By Sharing Utensils Or Being In Close Proximity With Who Have Virus

We’ve been emphasizing from the very beginning that HIV spreads only when an infected person shares bodily fluids like breast milk, blood, semen, vaginal fluid, or fluid from the anus, etc, with a healthy person. However, in some cases, HIV can enter a healthy person’s bloodstream through linings in the mouth, anus, penis, vagina, or even broken skin. 

Moreover, one cannot contract HIV or AIDS from:

  • Touching or hugging someone who has the virus
  • Using public bathrooms or swimming pools
  • Sharing cups, utensils, or telephones with someone who has the virus
  • Insect bites
  • Donating blood

Myth 8: HIV Means “The END”

Getting diagnosed with HIV infection can be life-changing, furthermore, it’s something that may even discourage individuals from living a fuller life. It’s often said that HIV can lead to an untimely demise, though, that’s not true. Most people lead a healthy and longer life if they seek a diagnosis early on and stay on treatment meticulously.

Until here we’ve learned about HIV and demystified some of the most common myths. Now let’s further discuss the HIV diagnosis, treatment options, etc. 

HIV Diagnosis: How Is It Done? 

HIV diagnosis is something that is either carried by the doctor or could be done by oneself. However, if you suspect that you have recently come in contact with HIV recently then you should make your doctor’s appointment ASAP. Now, the doctor uses either blood, saliva, or urine sample to ensure the presence of HIV.13

  • When a person is infected with HIV, their body’s immune system gets under attack- which leads to the production of antibodies. These antibodies can be found in blood, semen, or other bodily fluids and tested by appropriate diagnostic tests.
  • Furthermore, HIV infection cannot be diagnosed with a positive ELISA test alone. It must be confirmed with a positive test for HIV- DNA or RNA. A PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test can be used to detect HIV DNA or RNA.13 

HIV antibodies or antigens usually show up in the blood within 3 months after exposure. If you think you have been exposed to HIV but test negative, get tested again in a few weeks to be sure.

In the meantime, it’s essential to take steps to prevent the spread of the virus, even if you initially received negative HIV test results. Here are some crucial steps to follow during this time:13

  1. Avoid sexual contact with others.
  2. If you do engage in sexual activity, practice safer sex by considering the use of condoms and other barrier methods.
  3. Do not share needles, syringes, or injectables, among other items.

Lastly, if you have any questions or concerns, talk to your doctor.

Testing After HIV Diagnosis13

Once a person is tested positive for HIV/AIDS they have to go for further testing, which includes:

i. First Set Of Compulsory Testing

After recognizing a positive test result, the doctor conducts a thorough examination of the medical history and overall physical assessment of the patient. They may also request various lab tests, which include: 

  • Complete blood count (CBC): A blood test to determine the numbers and types of cells, particularly CD4+ cells
  • Chemistry screen: This test helps in measuring the levels of certain substances in the blood, such as electrolytes and glucose, and evaluates the functioning of your liver and kidneys

Furthermore, to assess potential complications resulting from HIV, a doctor may also conduct tests to check for current or previous infections. These tests may include screening for syphilis, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and tuberculosis (TB).

ii. Regular Testing

When a person is diagnosed with HIV, they need to undergo regular testing to keep the viral load in check and to ensure that the immune system isn’t getting too weakened. 

These regular tests help in assessing: 

  • CD4+ Cell Count: These cell counts give insights into the status of one’s immune system
  • Viral Load:  It indicates the quantity of HIV in the bloodstream

Interpreting these tests can assist patients in deciding when to commence treatment or shift to new medications if their current ones are ineffective.

iii. Testing For Drug Resistance 

Doctors recommend testing everyone with HIV for drug resistance to ensure that the right medications are prescribed. This information can help the doctor create a personalized treatment plan that is most effective.

HIV-infected individuals may also be tested for drug resistance if:

  • They are starting HIV treatment
  • Their viral load is not decreasing despite the treatment
  • Their viral load has become detectable again after being undetectable

HIV Prevention: Everything You Need To Know About PrEP

Some might consider PrEP a miraculous drug with the power to cure HIV, but that’s not the case. While PrEP is highly effective against HIV, it does not get rid of the virus. PrEP is primarily a preventive measure, not a treatment for existing infections. Therefore, PrEP provides benefits when taken before potential exposure to HIV, rather than as a treatment. 

In this section, we will delve into the details of PrEP and address common myths associated with it. But before we dive in, let’s start with…

What Is PrEP?

PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a medication that aids in the prevention of infection with HIV. As discussed briefly above, a PrEP can act as an antiretroviral before exposure to HIV.14,15 The antiretrovirals or PrEP must be taken daily and as prescribed; however, it’s possible to take them on an intermittent basis if desired.16,17 All in all PrEP has demonstrated high efficacy against HIV, especially when used in conjunction with other methods of protection- such as condoms.16,17

So far PrEP sounds like a wonder drug right? And if used properly it really DOES wonders! However, despite its high efficacy, there are still so many myths surrounding it. Therefore, here we are with the factual explanations behind some of the most common myths associated with PrEPs…

Demystifying PrEP Myths!

Let’s bust some myths…and spread real hope. 

Myth 1: Taking PrEP Does Not Protect From HIV

This is probably the most-sung myth out there! Considering the fact that only less than 350,000 people worldwide take PrEP, one can determine how many people are fed with this false information.18  Nevertheless, the truth is taking PrEP medication helps in preventing HIV up to 99%.14 So, if you or any of your dear ones have been diagnosed with HIV then visiting a doctor and talking about PrEP medications would be a wise thing!

Myth 2: Taking PrEP Causes Adverse Side-Effects

A lot of people may not be aware of the fact but almost all medications can cause side-effects! Now it doesn’t matter if your medicine is prescribed, over-the-counter drugs or health supplements; if it’s coming in a pill, tablet, or capsule then it’ll surely have side effects. 

Talking about PrEP… if you’re worried about the safety of the drug then we can assure you that you don’t have to. However, since everyone is different, some people can still experience mild side effects such as diarrhea, fatigue, headache, and nausea.19  Though, they are nothing to worry about and can be alleviated by a simple doctor’s visit.

Myth 3: If Someone Starts Taking PrEP They Need To Take It FOREVER!

PrEP protects its users from the potential transmission of the HIV virus and also discourages the virus’ further growth.19 So stopping PrEP’s use when an individual is NOT practicing high-risk activities like engaging in sexual intercourse with HIV-positive individuals is totally alright. This means that if you’re not under the radar of HIV or being a participant in HIV risk behaviors then you’re good to go even without PrEP.

However, if you still have any doubts about whether you should continue taking PrEP or not, then getting your health provider’s advice can be helpful.

Myth 4: Only Homosexual or Gay Men Benefit For PrEP

An HIV infection can be developed in any individual despite their gender, race, ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation.20 Therefore, any person who is involved in activities like having intercourse with HIV-positive individuals, sharing injectables, etc, can benefit from PrEP.21

Myth 5: You Can Take PrEP Whenever Required

There’s a common misconception about PrEP usage, that one can take it just a day before having planned sex, sharing injectibles, etc. Nevertheless, it doesn’t work like that because to make PrEP work efficiently, it’s important that you take it regularly for:

  • 7 days for receptive anal sex (bottoming)
  • 21 days for receptive vaginal sex 

It’s important to take PrEP regularly for above mentioned days to maximize its potency.22 

Myth 6: Only People With Multiple Sex Partners Need PrEP

HIV continues to be a topic surrounded by taboos, leading to the misconception that only those with multiple sex partners need to consider PrEP’s usage. However, it is important to note that PrEP can provide protection for individuals in monogamous relationships as well. 

For instance, if you have an HIV-positive partner or if your partner has a history of IV drug use; you can use PrEP to prevent infection in yourself.

Myth 7: PrEP Is Not Easily Accessible! 

We understand that many people, including perhaps yourself, believe that accessing PrEP is a challenge. This may be due to the fact that HIV is not as commonly discussed as other diseases and health issues, resulting in PrEP being relatively unknown. However, there’s no need to worry! We are here to ensure that you can access PrEP easily- whether you have concerns about your sexual partner’s HIV status or simply want to be extra cautious, at Hey Mistr, no questions are asked! 

To learn more about how you can obtain PrEP without any hassle, click here.

Introducing Hey Mistr’s PrEP- Your Doorstep Solution To HIV Prevention!

Before you make up your mind about PrEP, let’s explore how choosing Hey Mistr can positively impact your life. When we say “making a difference,” we truly mean it. How, you ask? We’re proud to offer unparalleled services that simplify your HIV prevention journey. We’re not just making claims! Take a look yourself, by checking out the following parameters we meticulously address; giving you peace of mind as you become a part of our community:

  1. Complementary Health Assessment- Our dedicated team conducts a thorough health assessment, tailoring PrEP recommendations to your specific needs.
  2. At-Home HIV Testing- After your health assessment is done, you’ll receive a complimentary at-home test. It’s quick and painless. Once we receive your test samples, our experts will analyze them and provide your HIV status results.
  3. Physician Consultation And Medication Prescription- After the first 2 steps, a licensed doctor will carefully review your test results and prescribe the appropriate PrEP medication. Apart from this, they will be there to assist you throughout the process.
  4. Home Delivery- Once approved by our medical experts, your first PrEP medication installment will be delivered to your doorstep at zero extra cost. So you don’t need to worry about extra shipping fees!
  5. Streamlined Administrative Process- As we said earlier, we care about you immensely, which is why we are here to take care of your every little need. From paperwork with your insurance company to getting you patient assistance programs- once you’re a part of our family. Your worry is ours to handle! 
  6. Automated Check-Ins- Last but not least, automated refills. Once you decide on how much you’ll be needing PrEP for. Furthermore, we’ll send you automated refills for your prescription every 3 months. 

So, are you ready to begin your PrEP journey that’s completely stress-free, hassle-free, and super easy to access? If you’re “nodding a yes” right now, then visit www.heymistr.com

Parting Thoughts…

After reading this blog, we hope you have gained valuable insights into the impact of PrEP and its usage on your life. However, achieving our mission of openly discussing HIV and PrEP requires the participation of everyone in the community, including you. By sharing this blog with your friends and family, you can help dispel myths surrounding HIV and support those living with it to lead promising and socially acceptable lives.

Moreover, if you’ve made it this far, chances are that you’re interested in becoming part of Hey Mistr’s family and embarking on your own journey towards HIV prevention! If that’s the case, join us by clicking here – we’ll be thrilled to offer our assistance! 

References

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/whatishiv.html#:~:text=HIV%20(human%20immunodeficiency%20virus)%20is,is%20currently%20no%20effective%20cure
  2. https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/about-hiv-and-aids/what-are-hiv-and-aids/ 
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3234451/ 
  4. https://www.pennmedicine.org/for-patients-and-visitors/patient-information/conditions-treated-a-to-z/aids-and-hiv 
  5. https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/about-hiv-and-aids/symptoms-of-hiv/ 
  6. https://hivinfo.nih.gov/understanding-hiv/fact-sheets/stages-hiv-infection#:~:text=HIV%20Progression&text=During%20this%20time%2C%20some%20people,lymphocyte)%20of%20the%20immune%20system. 
  7. https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/hiv-viral-load/ 
  8. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/livingwithhiv/opportunisticinfections.html 
  9. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/myths-about-hiv/ 
  10. https://www.womenshealth.gov/hiv-and-aids/living-hiv/pregnancy-and-hiv#:~:text=A%20diagnosis%20of%20HIV%20does,unborn%20baby%20to%20almost%20zero
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5607676/ 
  12. https://www.tht.org.uk/hiv-and-sexual-health/living-well-hiv/sex-and-relationships/when-youre-both-positive 
  13. https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-conditions/sexual-and-reproductive-health/hiv-aids/diagnosis.html 
  14. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/prep/index.html 
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK374312/ 
  16. https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/hiv-prevention/using-hiv-medication-to-reduce-risk/pre-exposure-prophylaxis#:~:text=If%20you%20think%20PrEP%20may,HIV%20medicine%20is%20not%20required
  17. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/clinicians/prevention/prescribe-prep.html#:~:text=2%2D1%2D1%20dosing%20of,is%20not%20recommended%20by%20CDC
  18. https://www.prepwatch.org/in-practice/global-prep-tracker/ 
  19. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prep/about-prep.html 
  20. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/group/index.html#:~:text=HIV%20can%20affect%20anyone%20regardless,is%20doing%20to%20address%20them
  21. https://campaigns.health.ny.gov/PrEP#:~:text=PrEP%20is%20for%20anyone%20%E2%80%93%20straight,99%25%20effective%20at%20preventing%20HIV
  22. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prep/prep-effectiveness.html