As part of my work, I have been researching about HIV and AIDS over the Internet. And while I was looking through different materials, it suddenly sparked into me: “Why do Filipinos know so little about HIV?”
It turns out, no one’s talking about it anymore, mainly because of the stigma it brings in a “very religious” country. Although there are Pinoys who got past the “you can get AIDS from mosquito bites and public toilets” myth, there are still many, many, misconceptions about the disease.
Here are the usual Filipino myths about HIV and AIDS, which I hope would help a lot of my readers.
* The Philippines has few cases of HIV and AIDS because we are a prayerful nation – Although there have been about 3,000 combined cases of HIV and AIDS in the Philippines since 1984 and only 197 reported cases in 2007 (which is less than 0.1% of the total population), these statistics cannot deny the fact that the country has all the elements of a potential upsurge of HIV population: lack of condom use especially among sex workers, government’s “ban” on condoms, multiple sexual partners especially in urban areas, an active sexual lifestyle especially among adolescents and young adults, among others. In fact, health experts say that the country’s HIV and AIDS situation can be “hidden and growing”. Also note that a lot of Filipinos refuse to get an HIV test, unless required (for immigration, for instance).
* There are no signs of HIV infection - Most people with HIV had no way of knowing that they have been infected. However, there are some patients who experience what is called “Acute HIV Infection”. This happens when the patient’s “seroconversion”, when the HIV- antibody turns into HIV+. It is also during this time when the body’s immune system suddenly dips and becomes susceptible to various infections. Symptoms differ from person to person, but it could be any of the following:
* High fever
* Swollen lymph nodes
* Night sweats (profuse perspiration especially during sleep)
* Profound weight loss
* Dry cough
* Skin rashes
* Skin lesions
* Numbness, tingling, or burning sensation on the hands, feet, or face
* Changes in level of consciousness
Bear in mind that checking the symptoms yourself is not enough to know whether or not you are HIV+. You need to get tested.
* Oral sex is the safest sex – Any mode of unprotected sex, including oral sex, have its risk of HIV infection. Just like in vaginal and anal sex, the virus can be transmitted through oral sex as well especially if the mouth has open sores and bleeding gums. Even brushing your teeth causes “abrasions” in your gums that are invisible to the naked eye, which can let the virus through.
* You can get HIV by sharing food and utensils with an HIV+ person – The virus dies when it’s exposed to air, and also has low concentrations in the saliva. In simpler terms: No.
* You can get HIV by kissing an HIV+ person – Kissing a person with HIV on the cheek would not make you infected. Meanwhile, if you are French kissing an HIV+ patient, you need to swallow several gallons of saliva to get you infected. However, you do need to make sure that your mouth is free from open sores and bleeding gums before having that deep kiss.
* HIV can mark the end of one’s life – Having HIV today does not mean you are going to die tomorrow. The disease may be incurable for now, but it is treatable to at least delay the onset of AIDS. And although there have been very rare cases of HIV+ patients who were able to “shake off” the virus, we could only hope and pray that a cure for HIV would be discovered.