HIV Myths: Millennials Believe Virus May Spread Through Hug

HIV is one of the widely known diseases across the world. But people with the infection still experience stigma, especially in the U.S., despite decades of efforts to spread awareness of how it spreads and affects the body. 

A new survey supported by Merck and the Prevention Access Campaign shows that 23 percent of HIV-negative millennials and 41 percent of HIV-negative Gen Z were either “not at all” informed or “only somewhat” informed about the infection. The lack of awareness led many to avoiding social interactions with HIV patients. 

About 28 percent of millennials said they have avoided hugging, talking to or being friends with someone with the virus. Nearly 50 percent of all respondents, aged 18 to 36, believed that someone whose viral load was undetectable can spread HIV.

However, people can only transmit the virus through direct contact with certain body fluids, like blood and semen, from an infected person with a detectable viral load, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The findings come from an online survey of 1,596 millennials and Generation Z people in the U.S. Half of the respondents were diagnosed with HIV. The report should remind the public and the government that the AIDS crisis is still ongoing, according to Bruce Richman, executive director of Prevention Access Campaign.

“Despite scientific advances and decades of HIV advocacy and education ... young adults overwhelmingly are not being informed effectively about the basics of HIV,” he said in a statement. “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.”

Chris, a 32-year-old consultant, is one of the people who experienced the impact of the HIV stigma. He said he experienced discrimination despite living in cities where people have more access to information. 

“I went to a dentist in Atlanta, and after filling out the medical history form I overheard one of the nurses saying they wouldn’t touch me — even with gloves on,” Chris told NBC News. “Needless to say, I left after having a harsh word with the dentist.”

Despite the health community and government spreading information about HIV, Chris said that ignorance persists in the U.S. The bad experiences of infected people 20 to 30 years ago “are still alive and well.”

The survey is expected to support the new educational campaign, “Owning HIV: Young Adults and the Fight Ahead” in the U.S. It aims to help young Americans become properly informed about the infection.

HIV campaign HIV+ patient Aaron Laxton (Center R) of St. Louis, Missouri, and other activists participate in a march from the Washington Convention Center to the White House July 24, 2012 in Washington, DC. HIV has a long history and the scientific community continues to explore ways to find an effective cure. Alex Wong/Getty Images