THREE decades after the discovery of HIV the vast majority of people remain in the dark about the virus which affects nearly 160 patients in Swindon. A survey taken by 5,000 people and carried out by the National Aids Trust has shown Britons were ignorant of the realities of living with human immunodeficiency virus.
While a third of those polled did not realise people with the virus could work as nursery teachers or chefs, 20 per cent believed HIV positive patients could only expect to live for 10 years.
Only five per cent knew it was almost impossible to pass on HIV through unprotected sex if the patient is being successfully treated.
The findings were disappointing but came as no surprise to Steve Jones, regional manager for the Terrence Higgins Trust, an HIV and sexual health charity.
“Sadly this is not surprising to us,” he said. “Some people think there is a cure for HIV – it’s treatable but there is no cure – and some people still believe that you can get HIV through kissing or touching the same crockery.
“I think we were very good at dispelling these myths 10 or 15 years ago but generally HIV is not talked about as much now and the myths are creeping back in.
“There is an assumption that people know about HIV. We need to normalise discussions around HIV and in schools.
“For the last few years the priority has been around chlamydia and teenage pregnancy. Swindon has done very well in reducing its level in both. “Now we have to look at reducing levels of HIV through education and make sure people know that there is a simple way of protecting themselves. Condoms are widely available.”
In 2013, 159 people were HIV positive in Swindon.
Between 2009 and 2011, 36 patients were diagnosed with the virus in the town.
Aids is the final stage of HIV infection, when the body can no longer fight life-threatening infections.
With early diagnosis and effective treatment, most people with HIV will not go on to develop Aids.
An estimated 100,000 people are HIV positive in the UK, of whom about 22,000 are thought to be undiagnosed.
Lack of regular HIV testing is also a growing concern, Steve said.
“One of the things we are concerned about is that more people are diagnosed later,” he said. “This means that there has been damage to the immune system already when it is diagnosed. People are not being tested as frequently as they could or being tested at all.
“We are also seeing more older women diagnosed with HIV. They have come out of a long-term relationship and are not worried about getting pregnant so don’t think they have to use a condom. They just don’t think about protecting themselves.”