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Scots' views on HIV 'stuck in the 1980s', charity claims

Survey finds many people still believe myths and misconceptions about the virus.

Nearly a quarter of Scots think that HIV can be transmitted by kissing, according to a new survey.

The research uncovered a raft of myths and inaccuracies that are "deeply entrenched in society".

The Terrence Higgins Trust published the findings on Thursday to mark World AIDS Day, warning public perceptions were "stuck in the 1980s".

Charity leaders said awareness was still low, despite extensive medical progress in the fight against HIV over the past 30 years.

The YouGov survey found 23% of the Scots surveyed think HIV can be transmitted by kissing, while 32% believe sharing a toothbrush with someone who is HIV positive can pass on the virus.

Some 7% of respondents thought the virus could be transmitted by sharing scissors or clippers at the hairdressers with someone who is HIV positive.

Robert McKay, national director at Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland, said it was vital to stress these perceptions are inaccurate.

HIV does not survive outside the body and cannot be passed on through saliva or skin-to-skin contact.

He said: "We've come a long way since the AIDS crisis first emerged, when the nation was gripped by panic and fear.

"Thankfully, we now know far more about how HIV is and is not transmitted, and medical advances now mean HIV doesn't have to stand in the way of living a long and healthy life.

"But it's not over - while science has moved on, we can see today that inaccurate myths from the 1980s are still deeply entrenched in society, both in terms of how HIV is transmitted and what it's like to live with HIV."

He added: "Misunderstanding of the virus can fuel stigma and cause immense distress for people coming to terms with an HIV diagnosis.

"Much more needs to be done to bring Scottish communities up to date with what HIV means in 2016."

HIV treatment has significantly improved over the past three decades and new treatments can reduce the amount of the virus in the blood to undetectable levels.

These treatments prevent the virus from being passed on and significantly extend life expectancy.

A sexual health clinic for gay and bisexual men opened in Aberdeen on Thursday to coincide with World AIDS day. It will provide free sexual health advice and tests for infections including HIV.

The Exchange Street Clinic will be open every Thursday between 5.30pm and 7.30pm.

The research found 28% of Scottish respondents were aware people on effective HIV treatment can have children without passing on the virus.

It also found 43% were aware people with HIV can have sex without passing on the virus if they are on effective treatment.

The Terrance Higgins Trust urged people to wear red ribbons to show the fight against HIV is not over.

Mr McKay said there was still a great deal to be done to tackle stigma and complacency.

He added: "The HIV epidemic is not over in Scotland - there are more people living with and/or affected by HIV today than ever before.

" We must not let complacency and misunderstanding undo decades of progress. On World AIDS Day, it's more important than ever that we're still fighting, still caring, and still wearing our red ribbons with pride."

Michael, a young man living with HIV in Scotland, said: "HIV at first can be a scary and somewhat life changing diagnosis, but it's not a life sentence, as I found out when I was diagnosed earlier this year.

"Taking control of my HIV and being on treatment means not only am I looking after my health but also others health as I cannot pass the virus on.

"Being open and honest about my status has helped to show me that society can be accepting of HIV Positive people and that we don't have to live in fear. No one should be ashamed to take a HIV test, know your status and stay positive about it."

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