HIV & AIDS – Living with HIV/AIDS

What to do after a positive HIV diagnosis

If you have just tested positive for HIV, the first thing you should do is remain calm. A positive diagnosis is a huge reality to deal with but you should know that there are many treatment options to make life with HIV/AIDS manageable. You should see a health care provider with a specialty in HIV as soon as possible. Before you go to your appointment, think about what questions you have for your doctor, it might be helpful to write them down bring them. Remember that you should have a good relationship with your health care provider, so it should be someone you feel comfortable with. Remember that your doctor works for you; if the first doctor you visit is not a good match, you can always look for a different doctor. Your doctor will likely schedule lab tests, and ask you about your medical history, medications you are currently taking, your symptoms and your sexual activity. It is very important to be honest about these questions so that your doctor can provide you with the best care.

Is there a cure for AIDS?

Currently there is no cure for HIV/AIDS. This means that HIV/AIDS is a chronic, lifelong disease. A good support system is an important way to help you cope with every part of the disease. If you are not ready to tell close family and friends, try finding community run support groups. There are many resources online that can help you feel prepared, at ease, understood, and accepted while living with HIV/AIDS.  Ask your health care provider about support groups in your area.

When to begin treatment for HIV/AIDS

Beginning treatment for HIV/AIDS is a medically and personally sensitive decision. You do not want to let HIV progress into AIDS before beginning treatment. Because previous antiretroviral therapies (ART) caused many side effects and lead to resistance in some cases, officials recommended waiting until CD4 counts were critically low to start treatment. Now, however, antiretroviral therapy is more effective and easier to manage. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends early treatment for all HIV-positive individuals. Evidence suggests that starting treatment early leads to a better improvement of immune system functions. In addition, early treatment helps eliminate complications HIV can cause to other health conditions such as coronary artery disease, liver disease, and kidney disease. Another advantage of early treatment is the reduction of the chances of sexual transmission to uninfected persons. On the other hand, high costs of treatment may differ beginning ART, and we do not yet know the full effect of extended (many years) antiretroviral therapy.

Starting treatment is a personal decision because it requires life altering changes like diligence in medication schedules, multiple doctors appointments, experiencing side effects, and addressing medical bills. You will want to discuss these factors with your doctors and your support groups. Each patient will likely have a different type of treatment, so ask your doctor what you can expect from your proposed treatment. To learn more about anitretroviral therapy, click here.

Even if you do not begin treatment right away, you should continue to get lab tests for viral load and CD4 count every three to six months so that your doctor may track the progress of your disease. Also, it is important to track your health on your own. Make a note of any weight loss and symptoms you experience, as they may be indicators of an opportunistic infection. If you experience symptoms such as those listed here, call your doctor to schedule a check up. Once you do begin treatment, it is extremely important to follow your medication schedule strictly. Always follow your doctors advice for your treatment regimen and inform him/her if you have missed any medications.

Discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS

Under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of their HIV status. This means that you can not be denied a benefit or service provided to others because you are HIV-positive. In addition, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) protects the privacy of your medical records.

Telling others about your HIV status

After a positive diagnosis, you do not have to tell everyone you know about your HIV status, but there are certain people you should tell right away. It is very important to tell past and present sexual partners as well as anyone you have shared needles with. This will allow them to get tested and receive treatment if necessary. Many states have laws against knowingly infecting others with HIV, so you need to disclose your status to a sexual partner before having sex. If you need help disclosing your HIV status, your city or county health department’s Partner Services program can send an anonymous notification to these partners. Ask your health care provider or the laboratory where your test was given how you can connect with the local Partner Services program. Of course, you should also tell all your health care providers about your HIV status as well.

Telling friends and family is a personal choice. You can talk to support groups to get advice for approaching this subject. While telling others can be very daunting, it can also be a relief. Having the support of family and friends will significantly help with the pressure of living with HIV/AIDS. Before you tell some one, make sure you trust them and think about how they may react. It is a good idea to be informed about HIV and AIDS so that you can share information with them. Know that not everyone will have the same reaction. Some people may need some time to accept what you have told them.

You may consider telling your employer if your medical visits and treatments may interfere with work performance. It is a good idea to get a note from your doctor explaining how often you will need time off and why. Make sure your employer knows you would like your HIV status to remain confidential.

Protecting others when you are HIV positive

After testing positive for HIV, the best way you can protect others is by abstaining from activities that can spread HIV. The virus is spread through body fluids such as blood, semen, preseminal fluid, vaginal fluid and breast milk. HIV is commonly spread by sex (vaginal, anal or oral), sharing needles, or from an HIV-positive mother to her baby. Therefore the best way to protect others is to abstain from sex and sharing needles. If you choose to be sexually active while HIV positive, always wear a condom. Latex and polyurethane condoms are recommended for protection from HIV. Educate yourself on the correct use of condoms; always use a new condom for each sex act, and use water-based lubrication to prevent condom breakage. Also, consider choosing to be mutually monogamous with one partner. By reducing the number of sexual partners you and your partner have, you reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to multiple people. While condoms are highly effective for protecting against HIV, they are not 100% effective. The only way to be 100% sure you are not transmitting HIV is to remain abstinent.

If you use intravenous drugs, never share needles. Disposable needles can be found in pharmacies. Also, because drug usage may speed HIV progression, consider stopping use and seeking treatment for your addiction. Your doctor should be able to direct you to some reliable addiction services.

Helping yourself when you are HIV positive

Even if you are HIV positive, you can take steps to protect yourself. If you are taking anti-HIV medication, always follow the treatment schedule exactly how the doctor prescribed it to you. Skipping dosages or not following the regimen strictly are the most common causes of developing drug-resistant forms of HIV. Thus, adhering to your treatment schedule will increase the efficacy of your treatment by reducing the chance of HIV resistance to the drugs. If your medications are causing too many side effects to handle, talk to your doctor about treating these side effects or changing medications. Do not decide to stop the treatment on your own.

You should also maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating right, getting enough sleep, and avoiding other infections. Eating healthy and getting proper amounts of sleep will provide your immune system with more energy to fight off diseases. Other infections like STDs can cause the HIV virus to replicate faster, speeding HIV’s progression. Practicing abstinence or safe sex will protect you from contracting an STD. To avoid other infections, use proper hygiene, especially in public places. Avoid eating certain foods like raw eggs, raw meat or seafood, which could carry bacteria like Salmonella or E. coli. Drink plenty of clean water and wash your hands thoroughly. Taking these steps can help you avoid opportunistic infections and make living with HIV/AIDS more manageable.

Useful links

For help finding a health care provider and other support services, click here.

For more information about getting help with your medical costs, click here.

To learn more about your civil rights as someone who is HIV-positive, visit the Office for Civil Rights page.