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How do I live with HIV?

Just because HIV is a part of our lives does not mean it has to define us. Knowing our HIV status means we can make the right choices to lead long, happy and healthy lives.

Living With HIV

If you’ve tested positive of HIV you may feel overwhelmed, confused or scared. But remember that you are still you. You still are the same person you were yesterday. But now you have the right information to make sure you lead a long, healthy, and sexually fulfilled life.

It’s ok to feel scared or confused. Its normal to have these emotions after testing HIV-positive. But it is also important to remember that taking the right tablets every day will control the HIV virus in your body and mean you can lead a great life.

Now that you have the right information about you HIV-positive status you can make smart decisions about your health. You can start by:

  1. Learning how HIV works inside of you and how it affects your body
  2. Understanding your treatment options
  3. Building a support system of friends or family  

HIV and your Health 

HIV affects our bodies, especially the immune system and its ability to keep us from getting sick.

Health workers know how HIV is affecting your own body using two kinds of tests:

  • CD4 count measures how strong your immune system is. If there is a lot of HIV in your body, generally your CD4 count will be low.
  • Viral Load measures how much HIV is in your blood.

We take what is called ARV treatment to keep our immune systems strong. Keeping the immune system in our bodies strong by taking ARV tablet means we will be healthy. It also means that the amount of HIV in our bodies decreases.

This is very important and means eventually, if you keep taking your pills every day, doctors and nurses won’t be able to detect the HIV in your body. When you have a viral load that is not detectable it means you cannot spread HIV to others.

When you are living with HIV, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as syphilis, hepatitis or genital warts can be very serious. They can be harder for your immune system to fight. It is important to learn as much as you can about HIV, STIs and sexual health: A good place to start is the section on Sexually Transmitted Infections.

Besides taking treatment, eating a balanced diet, including fruits and vegetables, is important. Avoiding additional stress to your body, like drinking too much alcohol, is also important. Look after your body and it will keep looking after you. Don’t forget, like everyone else, men living with HIV can still catch a cold or malaria. If you feel very sick, rather than worry, go and see a health worker.

Understanding HIV Treatment

Always remember, just because you are HIV-positive does not mean you can’t have a great life and live to be old. All of us who are HIV-positive just need to remember to take our ARV tablets every day and look after our bodies.

When we take ARV medication the virus is controlled by our bodies. Our immune systems can then do their job and protect our bodies from other infections (such as TB).

Once you start ARV treatment, you will need to take your ARVs every day for the rest of your life in order to keep HIV from growing.

It is a bad idea to start and stop your ARVs because this will give HIV a chance to grow again inside your body. If you keep stopping ARV medication and then starting it again, the ARV medications can become a lot less effective.

Some men are worried about the side effects (negative effects) of ARVs, but modern tablets don’t really have many side effects, and those that do are easy to manage.

Current HIV treatment guidelines recommend treatment of everyone who is HIV-positive regardless of your CD4 count level.

HIV and your relationships

hiv relationWhen do I tell someone I have HIV? How do I tell them?

These are common questions we all have when we find out we are HIV-positive or sometimes when we have been living with HIV for some time.

The first thing you need to know is that information about your HIV status is confidential and it's up to you, and only you, to decide how and when you are ready to let others know.

There are many possible benefits to telling others. Letting other people know can help you accept that you are living with HIV. Telling others can also mean you have people to help support you as you start ARV treatment.

But it is also important that you tell people who you trust. And that you tell people who you think will be supportive. Think of someone, for example, a close friend or family member, who you know you can trust and will not share any information with others.

When possible, you should also tell your sexual partner or partners that you are HIV-positive, so that they can be checked for HIV as well. If it is not possible to disclose your status to your sex partner or partners, you have a responsibility to protect them from infection by using condoms and other HIV prevention methods such as ARVs consistently.

If you are in a long-term relationship, it is often preferable to tell your partner that you are HIV-positive because not doing so could decrease the level of trust in the relationship and place your partner at risk for getting HIV.

Remember you have a range of different HIV preventions options which they can use with your partners.  Some people are able to use condoms most or all of the time and this provides a high level of protection.  For couples or partners where using condoms is very difficult, different options are possible. For example, taking ARVs so that you have an undetectable viral load together with PrEP for HIV-negative partners can be used together for HIV protection.