Things That Matter

New Study Shows That 28 Percent Of Millennials Refuse To Hug People Who Are HIV-Positive

One in three Black and Latino millennials said they avoid shaking hands with HIV-positive people, according to a new study from the Prevention Access Campaign and pharmaceutical company Merck. While many of us understand HIV stigma as a relic of the Boomer generation, the new study, centered around millennial perception, found that stigma remains as a social barrier for those living with HIV. Not only do nearly all respondents (90 percent) living with HIV agree that they may avoid sharing their status for fear of losing friends or family, or experiencing mental, physical or emotional abuse, but they’re right. While 28 percent of HIV-negative millennials self-reported that they would avoid “hugging, talking to or being friends with someone with HIV,” but 34 percent of HIV-negative Latino and Black millennials said they wouldn’t even shake hands, share food, drinks or utensils with someone with HIV. The HIV strain is not transferrable through casual contact and can only be transferred by contact with infected blood or sexual fluids.

The survey found that young adults were more likely to be generally confused and uninformed about HIV than older generations who lived through the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Generation Z or Zoomers were found to be even less informed than millennials.

Ultimately, the study found that young people “are not being accurately informed about how HIV can and cannot be transmitted.”

CREDIT: @MPCAPS / TWITTER

 In case you don’t know where you fall, Zoomers are people currently aged 18-22, and Millennials are those currently aged 23-36. “Despite scientific advances and decades of HIV advocacy and education, the findings highlight a disturbing trend: young adults overwhelmingly are not being informed effectively about the basics of HIV,” said Bruce Richman, founding executive director, Prevention Access Campaign and the Undetectable Equals Untransmittable (U=U) campaign. “These findings are a call to action that the crisis in the United States is far from over. It’s time to elevate a real conversation about HIV and sexual health among America’s young people, and roll out innovative and engaging initiatives to educate and fight HIV stigma.”

The ignorance around the facts is staggering, including among those who have been diagnosed and are being treated by medical professionals.

CREDIT: @POSITIVE_TRANS / TWITTER

Only 31 percent of HIV-positive millennials understood that the term “undetectable” means that an HIV-positive person cannot transmit the virus sexually. Half of the HIV-negative respondents believed they could still contract the virus from someone who is “undetectable.” Undetectable means untransmittable, and it’s a major scientific advance in the fight against HIV. 

If taken as prescribed, which nearly 30 percent of the respondents do not, HIV medicine reduces the amount of HIV in the blood (viral load) to a very low level, which keeps the immune system working and prevents illness. Viral suppression is defined as having less than 200 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood. When an HIV-positive person who is taking medication receives a ‘negative’ test, it means the viral load is so low there is effectively no risk of them transmitting HIV sexually.

The Prevention Access Campaign seeks to end both the epidemic of HIV and its associated stigma, which form a negative feedback loop in public health.

CREDIT: @MERCK / TWITTER

Understanding the problem is the first step in preventing a deepening of the HIV epidemic,” said Dr. Peter Sklar, director, clinical research, Merck Research Laboratories, and practicing physician caring for people living with HIV. “We must continue to search for ways to better understand young people’s perceptions of HIV, promote safer sex behaviors and drive education and action in this population. It’s time to act. We are proud to champion these important issues with Prevention Access Campaign.”

Millennial Latinos have the highest rate of contracting HIV by having sex without condoms or PrEP.

CREDIT: @CDC_HIVAIDS / TWITTER

While more than two-thirds of HIV-negative young adults said they were most fearful of contracting HIV compared to other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), more than half of the same pool of people don’t use condoms or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in STI prevention. That means that young adults have a strong fear of contracting HIV but are largely not taking preventive measures to protect themselves, and the study suspects it’s simply for lack of education and stigma. The fact that the majority of young adults are not using condoms or PrEP is alarming given that more than 75 percent of HIV-positive millennials reported that they contracted HIV through sex without condoms or PrEP.

Even more alarming is that the stigma around condoms and PrEP are putting Black and Latino millennials at higher risk. Around 84 percent of HIV-positive Latinos and 79 percent of HIV-positive Black Americans reported contracting HIV through sex without condoms or PrEP use.

While Latinos make up 18 percent of the US population, they account for 26 percent of new HIV diagnoses in the US in 2017, according to the CDC.

Know your status. Get tested.

READ: Remembering Pedro Zamora, The HIV-Positive Man Who Changed Hearts And Minds While On ‘Real World: San Francisco’

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