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Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Misconceptions about HIV/AIDS

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

A public awareness/education campaign must battle the stigma against HIV/AIDS, which is fueled by misconceptions, said Thomas Salyer, case manager/awareness activist for the West Piedmont AIDS Task Force.

He gave these examples.

Misconception: All people with HIV or AIDS are homosexuals, prostitutes or intravenous drug users.

Fact: Only about 20 percent of the 100 clients of the task force are gays, prostitutes or intravenous drug users. Eighty percent are heterosexuals. Many of them work, go to school and/or have children. Many of them look healthy. There are parents and grandparents, most probably infected by a spouse who developed the virus through risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex or sharing an infected intravenous drug needle. The local task force's 100 clients range in age from 28 to 72; about 80 percent of the clients are between 35 and 50 years old.

Misconception: HIV/AIDS is communicable.

Fact: HIV/AIDS cannot be spread through such things as hugging, nonintimate touching or swimming in the same pool. HIV and AIDS can be spread through the exchange of infected body fluids, such as semen, blood or a combination.

Misconception: HIV/AIDS is a black disease.

Fact: Of the 100 clients, about 60 percent are black; about 39 percent are white; and about 1 percent are Hispanic. The gender breakdown is a little more than half male.

Misconception: Talking about HIV and AIDS has to be dirty and graphic.

Fact: The issue can be discussed in a "decent," nongraphic, informative manner.

Many parents allow their children to watch television, listen to music or play video games that have sexual content or connotations, but the parents will not discuss HIV and AIDS with their children, Salyer said.

He added he does not believe the abstinence-based programs under President George W. Bush have worked and said President Obama's administration plans to emphasize education and prevention.

To help prevent HIV/AIDS, Salyer urges each sexually active person to ask his or her partner if he or she has had previous sexual partners, if the partner has been tested for sexually transmitted diseases and if the partner has had a sexually transmitted disease in the past. Salyer also urges sexually active people to wear condoms, reducing the risk of getting HIV by more than 90 percent.


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