Misconceptions about symptoms of HIV/AIDS
While correctly identifying that significant weight loss (or being slim) is a symptom of HIV/AIDS, adolescents expressed some mistaken ideas about changes in physical appearance that occur in HIV-infected persons. Some of these misconceptions include abdominal swelling, change in hair color, long finger nails, small head size and muscular paralyses (hemiplegia and paraplegia). There was also the general notion that HIV-infected persons can be easily recognized by how they look. These views about symptoms of HIV/AIDS were shared by both adolescent boys and girls.
"The person has long fingernail… will be very slim, have big stomach and tiny legs. If you look at the person you will use your eyes to confirm that the person is infected by HIV/AIDs” (Male Adolescent - ADIKM)
“By mere looking at them you will know because they will be slim…. Also, HIV infected persons have stroke (paralyses), they look very slim and the hairs of the person can change color.” (Male Adolescent - ADEZM)
“The head of an HIV-infected person will be very small and they look ugly and very tiny …” (Female Adolescent – ADEZF)
Although HIV-related symptoms are commonly related to opportunistic infections, neurologic tropism is not a common symptom and it would take an advanced learner (such as a health worker) to identify (or mention) stroke as a symptom of HIV/AIDS.
The difference between weight loss and being slim could be hard to interpret from an adolescent’s point of view. Although HIV patients experience weight loss due to the disease, individuals could be naturally slim which is unrelated to HIV/AIDS.
Misconceptions about modes of transmission of HIV/AIDS
Some commonly reported misconceptions about modes of transmission of HIV/AIDS were seen to persist among adolescents, such as sharing the same bed; sharing personal belongings such as clothing, foot wear, combs, utensils and toothbrush; hugging and kissing; and sucking of breast. These ideas were also shared by adolescent boys or girls.
Some supporting quotes include,
“HIV can be contracted by using the same handkerchief with the person that has HIV. Also, through the comb that the HIV person used to comb his hair, and also wearing pants from one person to the other” (Male Adolescent-ADEZM)
“You contract HIV when a boy is sucking a breast of a girl that is HIV infected” (Female Adolescent-ADABF)
“You can contract it (HIV) when using spoon that somebody has used to eat and by sharing the same brush with another person who has the disease” (Female Adolescent – ADEZFR)
Misconceptions about prevention and treatment of HIV
Compared to the other thematic areas, wrong impression about curability of HIV/AIDS was an exception rather than norm among adolescents that participated in the FGDs. Only a couple of male adolescents were of the opinion that HIV could be cured; one of them categorically stated that HIV could be cured using antibiotics and the other said he received his information about HIV cure from YouTube.
All other participants expressed that HIV has no cure but could be treated with antiretroviral drugs that reduce the viral load and contribute to improving the quality of life of HIV-infected persons. They also identified that HIV could be prevented through proper education, screening of blood before transfusion, and safe sex practices such as consistent use of condoms and sexual abstinence. Some supporting quotes are,
“HIV can never be cured; but they (healthcare providers) can give you some drugs that can help to sustain your life" (Female Adolescent-ADIKF)
"HIV/AIDs patients who take drugs look healthy. They cannot be identified through their looks. Some of the boys that have HIV are even the healthiest persons in the community because of the use of antiretroviral drugs" (Male Adolescent-ADAFM)