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Poll finds widespread public misunderstanding of HIV

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More than a third of people wrongly believe that being HIV positive bans someone from working with people with mental illness or as a nursery school teacher, according to charity research.

Findings from a quiz taken by 5,000 people suggested the public were “in the dark” about the realities of living with human immunodeficiency (HIV) virus, said the National Aids Trust (NAT).

The charity’s survey findings, released on the 30th anniversary of the discovery of the HIV virus, showed one in five, or 20%, of the public wrongly believe that people with HIV can only expect to live for 10 years after acquiring the virus, even if they are on treatment and not diagnosed late.

“In the UK currently one in five people who have HIV don’t know they have it”

Deborah Jack

Only 16% of respondents correctly stated that people with HIV can expect to have a normal life expectancy where they are being successfully treated and they are not diagnosed late.

The research also showed that more than a third, or 36%, of people wrongly thought that being HIV positive prevented someone from working as a nursery school teacher, a chef or with people with mental health problems.

The charity said the only job that someone HIV positive cannot do is work in the frontline armed forces, a ban applying to anyone with a long-term medical condition that requires daily medication.

Dentists, surgeons and midwives who are HIV positive can practise as long as they are monitored and their “viral load” − the level of the HIV virus in their blood − remains undetectable, the charity said.

A quarter of those surveyed, or 26%, thought it was illegal not to disclose your HIV status to your beauty therapist, your GP, your tattooist, your dentist, your employer, and someone you are marrying.

The NAT said there is no legal requirement to disclose your HIV status to anyone, except in very few specific jobs such as dentists, surgeons and midwives.

Other findings from the research included that only 5% of those surveyed knew that the chance of passing on HIV through unprotected sex is “virtually nil” if someone is doing well on treatment.

The charity said an estimated 100,000 people are HIV positive in the UK, of whom around 22,000 are thought to be undiagnosed.


Deborah Jack

NAT chief executive Deborah Jack said: “Thanks to effective treatment, the situation for someone who is diagnosed with HIV today is a world away from that faced by someone who was diagnosed when the virus was first discovered 30 years ago. However people’s understanding hasn’t kept pace with medical advances.”

“In the UK currently one in five people who have HIV don’t know they have it,” she said. “This can have devastating consequences for their health as well as increasing the risk of them passing HIV on to their partner.

“In the absence of public awareness campaigns or compulsory sex education it is up to individuals to educate themselves and those around them about HIV.”


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Readers' comments (1)

  • All other transmittable diseases are notifiable, why not the devastating HIV virus? People can then choose to be or not to be protected to avoid cross infection. You want to remove the stigma, understandably but suffers must show respect and concern for others. "Virtually" is means not completely impossible to pass on through unprotected sex, How was it caught in the first place? The illness' resulting from this awful virus, due to the poor immune system are terrible and EVERYONE needs to be protected from it by abstinence or protection. Aids awareness should be reducing cross infection but there are 3,000 new cases every year. Many, as already said, do not know they have it. Let's wipe it out with protection and fidelity

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