HIV in Chile today: Myths and truths of a disease that continues to rise

  • By:jobsplan



According to the latest data provided by UNAIDS, it is estimated that in Chile there are 77,000 people living with HIV, the virus that damages the immune system by destroying a type of white blood cell that helps the body fight infections. Likewise, and according to data from the Institute of Public Health, in 2020 a total of 4,446 new cases were registered in the country and between January and June 2021, some 2,390. “Although it is likely that fewer cases have been investigated in the context of a pandemic, it is a disease that has remained on the rise in Chile and the world, where our country has been one of the countries that has shown the greatest increase in recent years. The new cases are mainly in the young population between 20-39 years old, predominantly male”, explains Beatriz Cerda, immunologist at Clínica Bupa Santiago.

If we compare the scenario of HIV in Chile today compared to what existed 10 or 20 years ago, a notable change is observed in terms of access to timely diagnosis and improvement of available treatments. “Today, patients use a single pill, which contains all the components of their therapy and they have fewer adverse effects. Two decades ago, we had patients using a lot of pills and with therapies that generated a lot of side effects, which we no longer see. We see that life expectancy has lengthened significantly and, for this reason, we find more and more patients for whom their current problem is no longer the virus, but rather high blood pressure, diabetes or other metabolic disorders.

However, further progress is still needed, especially in terms of education and understanding of the virus. "Despite the improvements, we are still indebted to the social stigma that, although it has diminished, still remains," adds Dr. Beatriz Cerda.

For a long time, HIV has been a disease surrounded by prejudice and with a strong social stigma, based largely on ignorance of its causes and development. Faced with this, Dr. Cerda clarifies the main myths associated with this pathology and how to prevent its spread.

main myths

  1. “HIV can be transmitted through kissing, sharing cutlery or in the bathroom”: False. The only forms of contagion through fluids are blood, semen, genital or rectal fluids and breast milk.

2. “HIV is the same as AIDS”: This is false, since AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is the advanced stage of HIV infection. It occurs when the body's immune system is severely damaged by the virus, where there is a great deterioration of the immune system that predisposes to multiple infections and other pathologies. Not all people with HIV develop AIDS. With proper treatment and timely investigation, the vast majority of patients have good control and never reach that stage.

3. "If I am in a stable relationship I have no risk of getting infected": False. We are all at risk of contagion.

4.“All people with HIV transmit the virus”: No. If proper treatment is followed, the viral load of the circulating virus becomes undetectable, which is equivalent to non-transmissible.

  1. “People living with HIV will transmit the disease to their children”: A woman who is diagnosed during pregnancy and receives timely treatment can have a totally healthy child. Likewise, a couple where both are HIV-positive and with an undetectable viral load will have an HIV-negative child.

6. “It only affects the homosexual population”: No. Anyone who has unprotected sexual intercourse can become infected.

7. "It is a disease that has a cure": No. Until now there is no cure, however, current medications allow it to be a controlled and chronic pathology.

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HIV in Chile today: Myths and truths of a disease that continues to rise
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