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Breaking the stigma around HIV

Facts about HIV and how to address the stigma

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) destroys the body’s CD4 cells, or T cells, which help fight off infections and diseases. If HIV goes undiagnosed and untreated, the number of T cells will decrease and HIV will become acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) over time. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV and cannot be transmitted – only HIV can be transmitted.

There is no cure for HIV, but it is no longer a death sentence for people who get treatment. With proper treatment, people can live long, healthy lives. But the stigma and misinformation remain.

HIV symptoms

breaking the stigma around hivAs early as two weeks after exposure to HIV, people may develop flu-like symptoms, including:

  • Sore throat
  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Night sweats
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen Lymph nodes
  • Mouth ulcers

These symptoms will last for a few weeks. During this stage, the virus is the most contagious. After the first stage of infection, HIV moves into a latency stage during which there are no symptoms.

Treatment options for HIV

HIV is treated with antiretroviral therapy, which is a medication that lowers the amount of the virus in the body. Thanks to improvements in HIV drugs, people with HIV who get early treatment can keep the virus suppressed, fight off infections and can expect to live nearly as long as someone without HIV.

Antiretroviral medicines also lower the chance of someone with HIV infecting others. Once someone starts treatment, it’s important to carefully follow the care plan laid out by a provider.

Don’t have a doctor?

If you don’t have a primary care provider (PCP), use our Find Care tool to help you find one near you. Makes sure you are logged in to see doctors in your network.

How is HIV spread?

Knowing the truth about how HIV is spread can help break down some of the stigma around it. HIV can be found in the blood, semen and vaginal fluids of someone with HIV. Having unprotected sex can put you at risk. Unless you and your partner are monogamous and have both tested negative for HIV, practice safe sex and limit sexual contact with multiple partners.

Sharing needles can also transmit the virus through blood in needles and syringes. Additionally, someone who has HIV can transmit it to their baby during pregnancy, childbirth or through breastfeeding, especially if they are not getting treatment.

Here are some ways to prevent HIV:

  • Avoid sexual practices that could put you in contact with HIV-infected fluids, like blood, semen and vaginal secretions.
  • Stop using injectable drugs. If you do use them, never share needles with others and always use a new needle.
  • If you are not diagnosed with HIV and think you’re at risk of getting it, talk to your PCP about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which can help prevent HIV infection.

Use this tool from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to find HIV prevention resources and testing sites near you.

According to the CDC, HIV is not spread through:

  • Mosquitoes, ticks or other insects
  • Saliva, tears or sweat
  • Hugging, shaking hands, sharing toilets, sharing dishes or closed-mouth kissing with someone who has HIV
  • Other sexual activities that don’t involve the exchange of body fluids (e.g., touching)
  • The air

Who’s at higher risk of HIV?

Anyone can get HIV, but some communities are at a higher risk than others.

The number of new HIV cases in the United States is highest among gay and bisexual men, who made up 66% of all new HIV infections in 2019, according to the CDC. Compared to other racial and ethnic groups, Black people are disproportionately affected, accounting for 42% of new HIV diagnoses in 2019. Transgender women are also at particularly heightened risk. Of 1,608 transgender women surveyed by the CDC in 2019 and 2020, 42% had positive HIV tests.

The stigma around HIV and AIDS

HIV is still a misunderstood virus, which can lead to stigma and fear. Stigma and discrimination are two barriers to HIV prevention and treatment, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). People living with HIV may face negativity, discrimination and even abuse, which can keep them from seeking help, getting medical treatment or sharing their HIV status.

Those who don't know the facts about HIV and AIDS may still have some harmful misconceptions about people with HIV, such as:

  • Believing that only certain groups of people can get HIV
  • Making moral judgments about people who take steps to prevent HIV transmission
  • Feeling that people deserve to get HIV because of their choices

You can help stop HIV-related stigma by reading stories about people living with HIV at Positive Spin. You can also help raise awareness by taking part in educational efforts like Let’s Stop HIV Together and World AIDS Day.

The easiest way to help is to know the facts about HIV and AIDS so you can help educate others.

HIV-related resources

Here are some helpful resources for people who have HIV or those who know someone who is affected:

  • For questions about treatment options, clinical trials related to HIV, support after diagnosis or counseling, AIDSVu has a list of resources to help.
  • For employment help, the U.S. Department of Labor offers helpful information about working and finding a job when you have HIV.
  • You cannot be discriminated against for having HIV, whether for work, housing, health benefits or other public services. If you feel you’re being unfairly targeted, file a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  • If you need a substance abuse treatment center, visit or call 1-800-662-HELP.
  • Idaho residents can also find HIV prevention resources and services by visiting the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare's website.

More ways to stay healthy with Sharecare

Find HIV-related resources and other tips on how to stay healthy with the Blue Cross of Idaho-sponsored Sharecare app. Blue Cross of Idaho members have exclusive access to Sharecare, an app to help you eat better, lower your stress level and be more active! To get the app, visit so you can create your Sharecare account, download the app and take the RealAge® Test. Do not download the Sharecare app directly from the App Store or Google Play.

Source: Sharecare

Disclaimer: This wellness program is administered by Sharecare, Inc., an independent company that provides health improvement management services to Blue Cross of Idaho members. Sharecare, Inc., does not provide Blue Cross of Idaho products or services and is solely responsible for the health improvement management services it provides.

Posted: June 24, 2022