How is HIV treated?
Treatment for HIV involves taking a combination of anti-HIV drugs. This treatment has a very powerful anti-HIV effect and stops the virus from reproducing.
This allows the immune system to strengthen and fight infections effectively.
To get the most benefit from your HIV treatment, you need to take it properly. This is often called ‘adherence’.
I’ve just found out that I have HIV, what can I expect to happen to me?
For most people, being diagnosed with HIV is a life-changing experience.
You’re likely to be experiencing a whole range of emotions at this time. Finding out that you have HIV is likely to have a whole range of emotional and practical implications.
But it’s good to know that finding out that you have HIV means that you’re in the best position to look after your health. This is likely to include accessing HIV treatment and care. HIV treatment can mean a longer and healthier life.
There are organisations all over the world that provide support to people who have just found out they are HIV-positive. In many cases, they will also be able to help you find out how to get the best available treatment and care where you live.
And it’s reassuring to know that people with HIV are loved and accepted, maintain and form relationships, have children, and lead fulfilling and productive lives.
Where can I go for treatment and care?
Medical care for HIV happens in a wide range of hospital and other medical settings, depending on where you are in the world. You can find out about treatment centres in the country where you live using the e-atlas on this website.
The best treatment and care for HIV is often at specialist HIV clinics.
In the UK, these are provided by the National Health Service (NHS). If you are entitled to free NHS care, then all the treatment and care provided by these clinics will be free. You can choose where you receive your HIV care – you don’t have to go to your local hospital.
In many parts of the world, most of the care given to people with HIV happens at home. It is provided by family and friends, perhaps with some help from an organisation that provides home-based care.
You can use the E-atlas on this website to find treatment centres where you are.
Where can I go for support?
You may find that a lot of support is available from the place where you get your HIV medical care, such as an HIV clinic.
Clinics may have counsellors or other staff who can help you come to terms with your diagnosis, or talk to you about problems you are having. They can also often refer you to specialist services if that is necessary.
Counselling and support may also be available from a local HIV charity, or other community organisation.
In some cases, these organisations may be able to refer you to specialist services, offering help with issues such as housing, financial advice or social support.
Can HIV be cured?
There is no cure for HIV. There has been, and continues to be, lots of research into possible cures.
But treatment with anti-HIV drugs means that many people with HIV are living long and healthy lives.
What can I do to help myself?
There’s a lot you can do to look after your physical and mental health and general wellbeing.
Leading a healthy lifestyle is a good start. This includes getting enough sleep, eating a good diet, exercising, not smoking, drinking sensible amounts of alcohol, and avoiding or moderating drug use.
Attending your clinic appointments is important and, if you are on HIV treatment, then taking it properly is a very important part of staying well.
Looking after your emotional health is also very important. It’s good to have somebody you trust who you can talk to about your feelings and discuss any problems you may have.
Living with HIV can be hard at times, and most people need the help of others from time to time. Don’t be frightened to ask for help.
Can I still have a baby?
Many women have an HIV test when they are pregnant. HIV can be passed on from a mother to her baby during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. However, with the right treatment and care, it’s possible for an HIV-positive mother to have an HIV-negative baby.
Taking HIV treatment during pregnancy, having a carefully managed birth, and not breastfeeding can reduce the risk of a mother passing on HIV to her baby to very low levels.
If you are thinking of having a baby, or learn that you are pregnant, it’s important that you discuss this with your healthcare team. They can talk to you about the best ways of staying well during your pregnancy and of having a healthy child.
For an HIV-positive man in a relationship with an HIV-negative woman, having unprotected sex could pass on HIV to the woman. There is a process called ‘sperm washing’ which removes HIV from sperm, but it is not widely available. It’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare team about your options.
Do I have to tell anyone that I have HIV?
It’s up to you who you decide to tell.
You will need to weigh up the pros and cons of telling someone that you have HIV.
On the one hand, restricting the number of people who know that you have HIV will keep the information private. Some people fear stigma, rejection, or even violence because they have HIV.
But by not telling anyone, it can also mean that you’re unable to access valuable sources of love, help and support. Many people find that they are loved by their partners and families, supported by their friends, and embraced by their community.
Telling current, previous or new sexual partners can be a difficult decision. You could talk this over with someone at your clinic.
In some countries there are laws setting out when you do or don’t need to tell certain people about your HIV status.
And many countries in the world have some sort of legislation in place to protect people living with HIV against discrimination if they do tell people about their HIV.
What do I need to know about HIV transmission and the law?
In a number of countries, criminal law is being used in cases where people living with HIV transmit or expose others to HIV infection. This is mostly applied to cases of possible sexual transmission.
In some cases, existing laws on assault are used. In others, legislation has been created especially to deal with the situation where someone is considered to have exposed someone to HIV or passed it on.
This is usually called either ‘intentional’ (where someone is considered to have acted deliberately) or ‘recklessly’ (where they were considered not to have taken enough care to avoid exposure or passing on HIV).
It generally means that someone did not disclose their HIV-positive status to their sexual partner, and did not take enough care to avoid the risk of transmission. The detail of the laws varies a lot from country to country.
This area of law is very complicated, especially as it can be very hard to prove (or disprove) someone’s role and behaviour in exposing or transmitting HIV to another person.
If you have a complaint made against you under one of these laws, it is very important that you get expert legal advice as soon as possible. An HIV support organisation is often a good place to start in finding this advice.
If you think you would like to make a complaint against someone, it’s equally important you get some advice and the chance to talk it through. Once you go to the police, it can be hard to change your mind about this action. An HIV organisation will be able to help you make a decision about the best action to take.