New Study Reveals HIV Misinformation and Stigma Common Among Americans

A new study from GLAAD and pharmaceutical giant Gilead reveals that many Americans are misinformed about HIV and how it spreads.

While HIV can only be transmitted through blood or sexual contact—and many people living with HIV are on effective treatment to have an undetectable viral load and therefore cannot spread the virus—the State of HIV Stigma study, which polled 2,506 adults from across the US, found that 59 percent believe it is “important to be careful around people living with HIV to avoid catching it.” Only 60 percent were aware that HIV could be treated at all.

Not only is misinformation surrounding HIV common, but so is stigma; 56 percent of non-LGBTQ respondents and 45 percent of LGBTQ respondents said they would be uncomfortable having a “doctor, dentist, or medical professional living with HIV,” 47 percent of non-LGBTQ respondents and 39 percent of LGBTQ respondents said they’d be uncomfortable with having a hairstylist with HIV, and 32 percent of non-LGBTQ respondents and 30 percent of LGBTQ respondents would be uncomfortable having a coworker living with HIV.

“People living with HIV today are leading long, healthy lives and cannot transmit HIV when they receive proper treatment, but the stigma that they face has persisted for far too long and leads to harmful discrimination,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD. “HIV issues have flown under the radar, but with advances in treatment and prevention, we urgently need to educate the public on the facts about HIV today.”

“This new survey gives us valuable insight into the role stigma plays as a barrier to care,” said Amy Flood of Gilead. “The solution will require collaboration between the entire community fighting this epidemic, from scientists to doctors and community leaders—and Gilead is proud to be a part of this effort.”

However, Gilead has faced criticism over their high prices of Truvada, a PrEP medication they produce. The company has been alleged to put off the development of a safer alternative to extend the drug’s patent and prevent a cheaper generic version from being produced.