Ask the Dentist: Breaking the stigma surrounding HIV can only be a good thing

Lucy Stock, dentist at Gentle Dental Care in Belfast, says Gareth Thomas's effort to break down the stigma surrounding HIV is a positive thing

Former Wales rugby captain Gareth Thomas has refealed that he is HIV positive
Lucy Stock

I APPLAUD Gareth Thomas, the former Wales rugby captain for revealing that he is HIV positive and saying that he wants to break the stigma around the condition.

Patients are still attending dental practices who are HIV positive with feelings of shame at having the virus and believing that it is something that needs to stay hidden. The ugliness of stigma is still with us and we need to break away from this medieval way of thinking.

HIV, the human papilloma virus, is just a virus. It is a round virus and looks like a tiny sea mine that is around 60 times smaller than a red blood cell. It goes around the body damaging our immune-system cells, which weakens the ability of the body to fight everyday infections.

HIV is just one of 219 viruses that have been discovered and are able to infect humans. The first virus to be discovered was the yellow fever virus in 1901, and three to four new species are still being found every year.

Viruses make up over two thirds of all human infectious agents that can cause disease. The other things that cause disease are bacteria, fungi and parasites. More than 30 different bacteria, viruses and parasites are known to be transmitted through sexual contact. So we need to relax about HIV and treat people infected by a virus just the same as everyone else – it's no big deal.

STIs are spread predominantly by sexual contact, including vaginal, anal and oral sex. Some can also be spread through non-sexual means such as via blood or blood products or transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy and childbirth.

Today, a person who is diagnosed with HIV, treated before the disease is far advanced, and stays on treatment can live nearly as long as someone who does not have HIV.

“Whenever AIDS has won, stigma, shame, distrust, discrimination and apathy was on its side. Every time AIDS has been defeated, it has been because of trust, openness, dialogue between individuals and communities, family support, human solidarity, and the human perseverance to find new paths and solutions,” says Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS.

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