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HIV is, without a doubt, something scary. Terrifying, in fact.
Some of us remember the days when HIV was a definite death sentence — something that gradually attacked its victims' immune systems, making them look like concentration camp inmates and eventually taking their lives, after a few near-misses and cancers, through pneumonia or something like that.
Many of us still associate HIV with certain populations, like gay men and people from sub-Saharan Africa, though most have heard that anyone who has unprotected sex could be at risk of contracting the virus. And indeed, while the vast majority of us know that you can't get HIV by spending time in the same room as a HIV-positive person or shaking their hands, a lot of us would still be afraid to interact closely with someone who has "the virus".
Are You Scared Of HIV — Or Not Scared Enough?
Despite all of this, some of us continue to engage in risky sexual behavior. We might be convinced our partners couldn't possibly be HIV positive, or we might not give HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases a second thought while we're getting undressed. Shockingly, some have drawn the wrong conclusion about HIV.
If you're young and from a developed western country, you'll have "missed out" on the HIV/AIDS scare campaigns and instead heard only good news about how people with HIV can now have a near-normal life expectancy, have children without passing the virus on, and take a pill or two a day to stay healthy.
If you're gay and enjoy an active sex life with multiple partners, you might even already have come to the conclusion that HIV is pretty much inevitable. It happens. There's a rumor that some people are actively looking to be infected with HIV, a phenomenon known as "bug chasers". That's sick, and the fact that people are talking about this at all shows that people in the West aren't as scared of HIV as they should be.
Have you ever had a risky sexual encounter? Think back. Many people will be able to say "yes", if they're being really honest. If you're answer is yes too, have you had yourself tested for HIV? Those who haven't been tested might simply not have considered the possibility they had the virus, particularly if they never experienced any symptoms. Some will definitely have thought about it, but would rather go on living without knowing.
Is there any chance you could have picked up HIV, recently or a long time ago — and from a casual encounter or a long-term partner? Remember, you being monogamous doesn't necessarily mean your partner is or was. It's time to get tested. Getting tested will give you peace of mind if the result is negative. If it's positive, knowing you have HIV can save your life.
Not convinced yet? On the next page, we'll tell you a little more about how HIV progresses, and what life with the virus is like for those on anti-retroviral treatment and those not receiving any treatment.