Health literacy and health-related knowledge among persons living with HIV/AIDS


      Background: Functional health literacy is associated with illness-related knowledge, understanding, and treatment perceptions for several chronic illnesses. This study examined health literacy in relation to knowledge and understanding of HIV/AIDS.
      Methods: Persons living with HIV/AIDS recruited from AIDS service organizations and HIV clinics completed the Test of Functional Health Literacy for Adults (TOFHLA) reading comprehension scale and measures of health status, knowledge and understanding of health status, perceptions of primary care givers, and perceptions of anti-HIV treatments.
      Results: Eighteen percent of the sample scored below the cutoff for marginal functional health literacy on the TOFHLA. Controlling for years of education, persons of lower health literacy were significantly less likely to have an undetectable HIV viral load, somewhat less likely to know their CD4 cell count and viral load, and lower health-literacy persons who knew their CD4 count and viral load were less likely to understand their meaning. Lower health literacy was also related to misperceptions that anti-HIV treatments reduce risks for sexually transmitting HIV and beliefs that anti-HIV treatments can relax safer-sex practices.
      Conclusions: Poor health literacy creates barriers to fully understanding one’s health, illness, and treatments. Misperceptions of treatment in the case of HIV infection creates danger for potentially transmitting treatment-resistant strains of HIV. These results have implications for patient education and treatment programming for people who have poor health-literacy skills and are living with HIV/AIDS.


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