Contributors Expert Advice

Expert Advice: Surprising Myths & Truths about Families with HIV/AIDS

There seem to be so many misconceptions and myths about HIV and AIDS, despite the evolution of technology and modern knowledge. In fact, myths about families with HIV/AIDS are often deemed as a taboo topic, and kept away from conversations.

Do we really know the truths behind this medical condition? What about children who grow up in families with HIV/AIDS – how do they cope?

With surprising myths and perceived knowledge surrounding these families, knowing the right facts helps parents in educating their kids should they have friends among them with the virus.

What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

According to HealthHub, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks the immune system, and makes it harder for the body to fight infections. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the final stage of HIV infection.

At present, there is still no known cure for HIV/AIDS virus. However, medical advancement has also led to the availability of medications to keep the virus in check, even if one partner is infected while the other is not.

We had the chance to interview Dr. Julian Hong, a medical doctor who specialises in acute and chronic medical issues. In this article, he sheds light by sharing truths and busting myths about families with HIV/AIDs.

Dr. Julian Hong DTAP Clinic
Dr. Julian Hong addresses myths that surround families with HIV/AIDS.

*Answers have been edited in view of brevity and clarity.

1) What are the chances of HIV progressing to AIDS?

Without medication, infection with the HIV virus takes about 10 years or less to progress to AIDS. Progression to AIDS is an almost certainty and survival after diagnosis with AIDS is roughly at 3 years.

2) What are the tell-tale signs or symptoms of the virus if young children are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS?

There are many misconceptions to how someone may contract the HIV virus. However, the most common way a child may contract HIV is usually through vertical transmission (mother to child) during childbirth. Medical studies have shown a 15 – 45% chance of this happening with an HIV positive parent but with appropriate treatment, this risk is lowered to 5%.

Read more: Experts Advice: Truths Behind Common Confinement Myths and Beliefs

Common signs and symptoms of HIV infections in children may include – enlarged glands (lymph nodes) around the neck, armpit or groin regions, recurrent fevers, loss of weight and appetite, unexplained recurrent rashes. But also to note is that these signs and symptoms are usually non-specific and one of the earliest indicators in a child with a chronic disease is a persistent drop in his or weight and height, also known as “failure to thrive”.

3) Is it safe for my kids to play with children with HIV/AIDS? Are there any precautionary measures to take to safeguard my children?

HIV needs a fluid medium to spread, and in the absence of sexual activity or blood transmission the likelihood of HIV spreading through playing with other children is ZERO.

With the same analogy of sharing food, sharing the same restroom, sharing the same water fountain, sharing the same playground equipment, there is absolutely NO risk. Myths about families with HIV/AIDS are aplenty, so it’s important to have the right knowledge.

Furthermore, if a child is known to have HIV, he or she would also be on treatment where the aim would be to decrease the viral load to undetectable amounts. This would make the virus intransmissible as a result.

The best advice I can share is to let children be children. They form impressions of others from an early age and if you do somehow learn that there is another child in his school or playgroup with HIV. It serves as an excellent opportunity to train your child to accept others who are different – be it carrying a chronic illness, a physical deformity, or a learning disability.

Dr. Julian Hong

4) If one parent is diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, does it mean that the other parent will be infected too?

If one parent is diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, despite whatever the circumstance or background, life can go on with proper medical care and treatment.

The question I often get is, if a partner is HIV negative and the other is positive, would both partners be able to enjoy their sex lives without fear of contracting HIV? The straightforward answer is YES but this must also be down to fixed situation which involves medications and good medical follow up.

Firstly, the HIV positive partner must be under treatment to have his or her viral loads treated until undetectable readings. Multiple medical studies have shown that undetectable viral loads equal to an intransmissible virus. Secondly, the HIV negative partner can also take a medication known as Pre Exposure Prophylaxis to prevent HIV transmission. Lastly, other protective measures such as circumcision (surgical removal of the foreskin) and condom use significantly reduces the chance of HIV transmission during sexual intercourse.

Pregnant mums with HIV/AIDs, the risk of transmitting the virus to your baby can be significantly reduced to just 5%. Image: Pexels

5) For kids diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, is it possible to lead a “normal life” right through adulthood, and even marriage or even starting their own families? Might this myth about these families with HIV/AIDS be just a misconception?

A 2016 report by UNICEF and UNAIDS detailed that 2.1 million children suffered from HIV globally with the majority of them living in Africa.

Yes, it is possible to live a normal life through adulthood because proper treatment and follow up will help keep the HIV virus under control; meaning, undetectable viral loads. The resultant effect of this is a functioning immune system that is not too affected by the virus.

Many a times, patients with HIV suffer from a weakened immune system which predisposes them to opportunistic infections. Where possible, vaccinations will also be given to strengthen the child’s immunity.

6) Is it possible that a child contacts HIV/AIDS, but both parents are fine?

If we are talking about vertical transmission from parent to child during childbirth, then no, this is not possible. But if the child/teenager has an exposure by blood or fluids from another person, this is possible.

7) How can parents with young kids who have HIV/AIDS cope with the disease? Are there any support groups in Singapore for parents?

Unfortunately, there are no known support groups out there for parents who have HIV positive children. However, there are general support groups for parents offered by local children hospitals in Singapore such as KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) and National University Hospital (NUH).

For parents who may have children who are HIV positive whether through vertical transmission or otherwise, the key is to equip oneself with the right knowledge on how best to care for your child and to work closely with your trusted medical professional.

HIV in children in Singapore is a rare disease and there is no cause for alarm. With the advent of medical treatment for mothers in pregnancy, the risk of vertical transmission can be almost diminished to 5% or less.

Regular testing (HIV testing and Anonymous HIV testing), early treatment and prevention ultimately forms a key cornerstone in mitigating and minimising the effects and the complications of this disease.

This article was contributed by Dr. Julian Hong, a doctor of DTAP Clinic Group and the alternate director of Resilience Collective, is a moderator at the Singapore Mental Health Conference, on “Empowerment and Recovery.

Do you know children or families with HIV/AIDS? How do you educate your own kids about their friends? Do share your thoughts below.
Follow our parenting adventures on FacebookInstagram &Pinterest too!

Leave a Reply