Having worked in the HIV/AIDS field for many years now, this is one of the most common questions that people ask me. Why is it that a person can ask one question, and get totally different answers from different sources? I myself have called various HIV/AIDS information sources and have heard a lot of conflicting (and sometimes totally wrong) information. I'm writing this article to address this confusion and to give people some insight as to why the confusion exists.
When you hear conflicting information to a particular question, don't hesitate to ask the person the following questions:
What type of training did you receive? Do you have a medical background?
What is the specific source of your information? Can you provide written references for this information?
When talking about transmission risks for HIV, are you talking theoretical risks, or have there actually been cases of HIV transmission reported in that fashion?
If the person you're talking to does not personally know the specific answers to these questions, ask to speak to their supervisor. And ask the supervisor about their training or medical background as well.
Keep in mind that many people who answer questions about HIV/AIDS are dedicated volunteers who want to get the word out as to the importance of being knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS. Many of them do not have a medical background, but they may still get an in-depth, high quality, formal training before being allowed to answer your questions. However, at some places, they may have no formal training at all. Just be patient with them when asking these questions. And remember that the reason they are there is because they truly want to help you!
An important thing I want to mention is that there are a lot of people out there with no medical training, making medical interpretations and medical conclusions about HIV/AIDS data. There are other people out there who simply haven't received adequate training. This is what leads to a lot of incorrect information out there. I've also heard people say, "Well, I THINK the answer is........" Then they give out the wrong answer.
Simply put, if a person is not 100% sure of the answer, they shouldn't answer the question. They should admit they don't know the answer, and refer the question to someone who does know the answer.
When we are talking about any aspect of any disease in medicine, whether it is HIV/AIDS, cancer, heart disease, etc., if you look hard enough, you will always find rare exceptions to everything. This is because medicine is not an absolute science. Nothing in medicine is absolute or 100%. Medicine is a very complex science. People often try to find simple answers to complex questions (like symptom, testing, transmission and treatment questions).
When we give health information on any disease, to keep things as understandable as possible, we try to answer what is found in the majority of cases. We cannot answer what would be found in every single case. That would make things extremely confusing for people. If you look hard enough, you will find exceptions to everything in medicine, regardless of what disease you are talking about. Much of what appears to be conflicting information, merely indicates the wide variability you will find in any aspect of any disease in medicine.
Do you want more information on HIV/AIDS, STDs or safer sex? Contact the U.S. Centers for Disease Control Health Line hotline, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 1-800-232-4636, or visit The Body's Safe Sex and Prevention Forum.
Until next time . . . Work hard, play hard, play safe, stay sober!