5 Top Questions for Newly Diagnosed HIV Patients

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If you’ve recently been diagnosed with HIV, you’re bound to have many questions. There’s a lot to think about and it’s perfectly normal to want to find out all you can. Fortunately, there are a few common questions most HIV-positive patients ask soon after their diagnosis.

1. What does it mean to be HIV-positive?

One of the first things to understand is the difference between HIV and AIDS. Your HIV-positive diagnosis means you have been infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which interferes with the function of certain immune cells in your body and leaves you more vulnerable to infection and other diseases.

Your HIV-positive diagnosis does not necessarily mean you have AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. It can be a little confusing, since HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. A person is only said to have AIDS when their immune system becomes extremely weak. AIDS is the final stage of a chronic HIV infection and it usually takes years to get to this point.

Doctors can tell if you have AIDS by looking at a your CD4 cell count, which is an indicator of how many healthy immune system cells are in your blood. Also, certain cancers and infections are much more likely to occur when you have AIDS.

These days, because of major advances in HIV treatment, it’s rare for properly treated HIV-positive patients to advance to full-blown AIDS. With proper adherence to your treatment plan and an ongoing relationship with your physician, you can lead a long and full life. An HIV diagnosis is no longer an almost-certain death sentence as it once was.

2. When should I start treatment?

To keep your disease manageable for as long as you can, it’s important to start treatment as soon as possible after receiving your diagnosis. Your HIV treatment has two goals:

  • To keep you as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Current medical treatments for HIV can help you stay healthy and prevent you from developing AIDS.

  • To keep you from transmitting the virus to others. Your treatment also helps to protect other people in your life from becoming infected with HIV.

3. What does treatment involve?

Current treatment for HIV involves the use of antiretroviral medications (ART medications), a class of drugs that specifically target retroviruses like HIV. Your doctor will decide which medications are best for you, and he or she will give you a schedule on which to take your medication every day.

It’s extremely important for you to take your medication exactly as your doctor prescribes. ART medications are designed to prevent the HIV virus from multiplying within your body. By taking your medication on time, every day, you help keep the virus under control.

4. How do I prevent spreading HIV to others?

HIV can be spread through contact with body fluids, like blood, semen, and breast milk. Besides taking your prescribed medications, there are several things you can do to help prevent transmitting the virus to another person:

  • If you’re sexually active, you should also use a condom every time you have sex to prevent the virus from spreading. Also, tell each of your partners you have HIV. That way, they can get tested to see if they also have the virus – if they do, they can begin treatment as well.

  • If you’re pregnant or breast feeding, it’s possible to pass the infection to your child. Be sure to get medical care immediately, since treatment can greatly reduce the likelihood of your child becoming infected.

  • If you use intravenous (IV) drugs, be sure to use clean needles each time, and don’t share needles with any other users. Let your healthcare providers know you have the virus so they know to be careful when drawing your blood.

5. How long can I expect to live?

Thanks to the medicines used to treat HIV, people who’ve been infected can expect to live just as long as their HIV-negative peers. The earlier you’re diagnosed, the longer you can expect to live, as long as you stick to your treatment schedule exactly as your doctor prescribes.

It’s not unusual to have many questions right after you’ve been diagnosed with HIV. It’s a life-changing event, and you want to be sure you get the most information possible as you prepare for living your life with HIV. You might still have questions, and that’s OK – be sure to discuss any concerns with your doctor, who knows your unique situation and can best guide you toward health.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Mar 10
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