According to the test, I am HIV negative – what do I do now?
If you test negative for HIV, that means no HIV antibodies were detected in your body at the time of the test. Good news. However, just because this HIV test indicates you are free of HIV, you should not fail to take precautionary measures to protect yourself from HIV infection. Additionally, if you were tested following an explicit exposure to HIV or a high-risk situation within the last few months, while a negative test is still good news, one or more repeat tests might be recommended. This is because an HIV test might take 2 weeks up to 3 months (or even as high as six months) to detect the virus.
If I am diagnosed as HIV negative, is my sexual partner HIV negative as well?
No, not necessarily. If you are HIV negative, this does not reflect your partners HIV status. If you and your partner have engaged in behavior that make both of you more susceptible to the HIV virus, your sex partner should get tested as well. It is important to remember that protection from HIV is a 2 way street – all the precautions you take to fight HIV infection are also the precautions you should take to prevent transmission from yourself to another.
What do I do if I have been diagnosed as HIV positive?
If you are HIV positive, it is important that you take immediate steps to monitor your health. Remember that you are not alone, and that there are a myriad of resources and people to help you. Individuals who are HIV positive can live very long and healthy lives. Early medical treatment with an experienced HIV specialist can significantly postpone the arrival of AIDS and other diseases.
People who have tested positive need to work closely with healthcare providers in making decisions about HIV treatment. As a result, it is recommended that people living with HIV find a healthcare provider experienced in dealing with HIV/AIDS, and with whom you feel comfortable.
Where can I find an HIV specialist?
To find healthcare providers, you can conduct research on the internet for information and services. Some examples include AIDSinfo, developed by the Department of Health and Human Services, and WebMD, a popular health forum. You may want to cross-reference providers who specialize in HIV with the list of approved providers covered by your insurance. Other options include contacting a local HIV/AIDS service organization in your community. These organizations will keep your information confidential. If you are comfortable enough, you should request a referral from your primary care physician.
What will happen at my first visit with a healthcare provider after diagnosis?
When you first meet with an HIV specialist after diagnosis, he or she will ask questions about your current lifestyle and well-being. In addition, your healthcare provider will conduct a physical exam and arrange for additional blood tests. Do not be afraid to ask any questions you may have about HIV. Some questions you may consider asking include types of treatment, how to live with HIV, where to get support, and how to prevent infections. In general, writing down questions beforehand and telling your physician that you have questions at the beginning of the visit is a good idea.
What is a viral load test?
Three vital blood tests will be conducted in your first meetings with your healthcare provider. These tests include the CD4 count the viral load test, and drug-resistance testing.
A CD4 count will measure the number of CD4 cells in a blood sample. The result will allow your healthcare provider to measure how effectively your immune system is functioning.
A viral load test measures the amount of the HIV virus present in a sample of your blood (viral load). An individual’s viral load can be measured using three different tests (PCR, bDNA, NASBA). A viral load test is significant because it allows healthcare providers to monitor changes related to HIV infection, determine how an HIV positive person will be treated, and monitor the success of treatment. HIV treatment which is working well will keep an HIV infected person’s viral load low so it cannot be detected in these tests.
Drug-resistance testing is the process to identify what medications will be ill suited to an HIV positive person’s HIV strain. The HIV virus is capable of mutating, and as a result become resistant to a particular drug. To avoid drug-resistance, follow your drug regimen to the letter, and let your provider know if you miss any doses or have trouble following the schedule. Drug resistance testing is critical when a healthcare provider helps guide a person living with HIV towards the best treatment regimen.
When should I expect to start HIV treatment?
Treatment will be determined by you and your healthcare provider based on HIV test results, viral load, CD4 count, and a detailed review of your medical history and current health. HIV is treated with drug therapies, commonly referred to as ‘cocktails’. A cocktail refers to the combination of drugs provided to proactively correct for the mutating nature of HIV. As the virus continues to mutate, it may become resistant to one drug in the cocktail. Here, your provider will find other HIV/AIDS drugs available to circumvent the resistance and fight the virus. It is important to remember that AIDS drug therapies do not have the same outcome for everyone, and people may respond differently to a particular treatment.