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Myths Contributing to Continuing HIV Epidemics

Targeting multiple sex partnerships should be priority in interrupting spread of epidemic

FRIDAY, Nov. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Ten misconceptions are hindering HIV prevention efforts in Africa, according to a commentary published in the Dec. 1 issue of The Lancet.

James D. Shelton, M.D., of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Washington, D.C., writes that one myth is that "HIV spreads like wildfire." In truth, in its long latter quiescent phase, it's not very infectious, but it does pose more threat in the first weeks when virus levels are high. This allows rapid spread of a new infection among people with multiple partners, which may largely drive generalized epidemics in Africa.

HIV testing isn't the answer, either, since very new cases are highly infectious, but don't test positive. Nor is treatment the solution, since people on antiretrovirals may feel well enough for sexual activity, and may lose inhibitions when they stop viewing HIV as a death sentence.

"Truthfully, our priority must be on the key driver of generalized epidemics -- concurrent partnerships," the author writes. "Even modest reductions in concurrent partnerships could substantially dampen the epidemic dynamic. Other prevention approaches also have merit, but they can be much more effective in conjunction with partner-limitation."

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