I’ve tested positive for HIV, what does that mean?
Testing HIV positive means you have been found to carry the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It’s important to know that HIV infection is now considered a manageable disease that can be well treated. HIV medications can’t cure HIV, but they help people living with HIV to live longer and have healthier lives.
Simply stated, the HIV diagnosis means that your immune system is compromised and you must seek treatment right away in order to determine the level of your immune function. The earlier people seek and maintain treatment, the better their prognosis.
How will living with HIV affect my immune system?
HIV enters your immune system and gradually takes over the functions that would normally protect you from diseases and infections. HIV changes the role these protective cells play. Infected cells now devote themselves only to creating more HIV. Over time this leaves people living with HIV vulnerable to other diseases and infections.
What can I do to protect myself?
The first thing to do is seek treatment. Speak to your primary care provider about a referral to an infectious disease specialist. Fortunately today, there are around 40 different medications that help rebuild and restore your immune function. These medications are taken in combination, or sometimes in one pill a day. They are available whether or not you have health insurance. Continue to enjoy and engage in sex, but using safer sex practices. Encourage your partners to get tested. Inquire about PreP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) a method used by HIV negative sexual partners to greatly reduce their risk of getting the virus.
How will living with HIV change my life?
Although every reaction is unique, having an HIV+ diagnosis will very likely stir your emotions. Today we have the benefits of excellent treatments for HIV, and better and less confusing information about the disease. You will benefit from trying to keep yourself as informed as you can. Seek out services available to people living with HIV such as support groups, case management services and individual counseling. These are all tried and true methods that help people living with HIV adjust to the changes in their lives.
Will living with HIV change my life expectancy?
In a series of studies of 88,000 people living with HIV reported by the LANCET and conducted in 1996, 2008 and 2010, showed that with proper care and adherence to treatment, people living with HIV, once they achieve immune suppression, and maintain it, can live a normal life span. What makes the difference in achieving a normal life expectancy is getting to treatment as early as possible, and staying in treatment.
Do I need to worry about further HIV prevention?
Yes, it is important to continue safer sex practices. For example, having unprotected sex with someone who carries a medication-resistant strain of HIV may pass that resistance on to you. That means drugs that might have been helping you won’t work anymore.
Remember that once you reach viral suppression, also known as “undetectable” viral status, this means that the amount of virus in your body is maintained at a minimum. Your overall health steadily improves and you greatly reduce the chance of passing the virus to someone else.