Alright kids, class is in session. We’re going to be going through 5 facts about HIV that we should all know but probably don’t, especially given the recent post by one of our esteemed MPs who thought you can spread the virus through bananas *cough* We’re looking at you Edwin Vassallo *cough*
1. HIV can’t be transmitted through eating bananas infected with blood.
Yup, you can’t get the virus through eating bananas contaminated with blood with HIV in them. Or, strawberries, or cherries, actually any food group is exempt from this. Sorry kids. So, no need to obsess at the supermarket when picking up your fresh produce. HIV is actually quite a weak disease, so it can’t live outside the body for long when exposed to the air, which is why it is transmitted sexually through blood, semen, vaginal and anal secretions of a person who has an active viral load (more on this later); and non-sexually through sharing needles with someone who has the virus and can be passed on from mother to child.
These bananas contain no traces of HIV and are not from your local Satanist greengrocer. We promise.
2. HIV DOES NOT EQUAL AIDS
People who live with HIV do no automatically get AIDS. Wut? Well, medicine has come a long way since the 80’s AIDS crisis in which countless people tragically lost their lives. Medication now suppresses the virus in someone living with HIV, effectively putting it to sleep so it can’t actively replicate and damage your immune system. AIDS (that means, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome)is, as its name implies, a syndrome. It’s what happens when HIV has taken over your body from lack of treatment, which leaves you defenceless to other opportunistic infections. Treatment can also bring you back from the brink of AIDS, but ideally you catch HIV early.
In fact, people who are living with HIV go on to live long, healthy lives. So, it’s not the death sentence that once was.
3. UNDETECTABLE = UNTRANSMITTABLE
Seeing as we’re on the subject of treatment, people who have HIV can’t pass on the virus if they reach an undetectable limit. SACRE BLEU! HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?!
Well, simples, remember we spoke about medication putting the virus to sleep in your system. Well, once a person with HIV goes on medication, the viral load in the body goes down so much that there isn’t enough virus in that person to transmit it. If a person has under 200 copies of the virus per ml of blood they are virally suppressed. Therefore, they can’t pass it on.
Please note, this does not mean that a person with HIV is cured as they must take their medication daily to continue to be undetectable. A study called the PARTNER (and also PARTNER 2) study followed couples, both hetero and homo, in which one partner was HIV positive (and undetectable) and one was HIV negative. These couples engaged in unprotected sex without the use of condoms.
Number of HIV transmissions? ZERO.
Obviously, condoms protect you from the other nasty STDs – so always bear that in mind when approaching sex safely.
4. PrEP and PEP
I wish they gave these two different names because they’re very similar. But, let me break it down for you:
PrEP = Think of it as a shorthand version for Preparation, stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. Taking PrEP reduces the risk of HIV transmission by over 99%. So, risk of HIV transmission from condomless sex is greatly diminished. HOWEVER, again, this does not mean it offers protection from other STDs like syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and the like. Liken this to the contraceptive pill women take to not get pregnant, same logic.
PEP = If PrEP is the pill women take to not get pregnant before sex, PEP is the morning-after pill equivalent. After a risky exposure, you can go to the GU Clinic and inform them that you had a high risk encounter. They will give you a course of PEP which you will have to take as instructed to prevent HIV from taking root in your system. Like the morning-after pill, this is time sensitive, so you’ll have to take it within 72 hours.
PrEP is currently not sold locally but you may get a prescription from the GU Clinic and you can order it online. PEP, also acquired from Mater Dei and comes at a price tag of around €600 Euros. *yikes*
Our hopes is that PrEP is not only sold locally in pharmacies, cause let’s face it – it’s important, but also made free. We also want the Government to make PEP free, because you have enough on your plate thinking you have HIV without forking out all that cash from your wallet (and not everyone might have the means anyway).
5. Malta Needs an Update in HIV Care
Currently, the medication being given to HIV patients is outdated and not on the EU recommended list of drugs to be prescribed to HIV positive patients. The outdated medication comes with an assortment of side effects which aren’t pleasant when trying to manage your life. I would know, I’m positive myself and I’d rather go through life without cramps and wondering if I’m going to be locked in the bathroom for 15 minutes as opposed to 5. Sorry for that image.
The Government has vowed to update treatment and we have been waiting patiently, but come on guys, I just want to have control over my body again. Don’t want much here. So, GET CRACKING PLEASE.
So, now that you know some of the basics, hopefully I’ve been able to dispel some of your fears around the condition now. Keep these things in mind next time you approach sex or bump into someone living with HIV. And remember, always be nice to them! Unfortunately, people living with HIV still get the brunt of a lot of stigma for no good reason, so always be kind!