A positive HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) test does not mean you have AIDS – it's definitely not a death sentence. Today, many HIV+ individuals are living long and fulfilling lives.
The key is getting effective treatment and being engaged and in control of your life.
With treatment, there is hope because HIV can be a manageable diagnosis. Without treatment, HIV can damage your immune system and lead to AIDS.
It's important to take the following steps, if you haven't done so already:
By enrolling with S-CAP, you can receive confidential medical case management services at no charge. In addition, you may qualify for a range of health care and other services that can help you achieve optimal health and self-sufficiency. Bilingual Spanish-speaking case managers are available.
You may choose to continue to see your current doctor, or your S-CAP medical case manager can help you find a doctor if you need help finding one. The doctor you choose should take your medical history, provide a physical exam and conduct appropriate tests including a CD4 count, viral load test and a drug resistance test. The results will provide a baseline measurement for future tests.
It's important for you to learn as much as possible about your condition and treatment options – don't hesitate to ask any questions that you have.
After providing you with a medical exam and reviewing your test results, your doctor will discuss the pros and cons of starting treatment with anti-HIV medications (also called antiretroviral medications) with you. Whether you decide to begin or postpone treatment with these medications, you must periodically repeat the CD4 count test and the viral load test according to your doctor's instructions.
Once you begin taking the anti-HIV medications that you and your doctor choose, you will continue to take anti-HIV medications for the rest of your life. Although newer anti-HIV medications are easier to take, starting treatment usually means a significant adjustment in your lifestyle. Some anti-HIV medications need to be taken several times a day at specific times and may require a change in the foods you eat, when you eat meals, and when you take other medications.
In addition to their desired effects, anti-HIV medications may have negative side effects, some of which are serious. If the virus is not suppressed completely, drug resistance can develop. Side effects and drug resistance may limit your future treatment options.
Once your doctor prescribes anti-HIV medications, you must take the medications exactly as directed. If you skip even one dose, you give HIV the chance to reproduce more rapidly, increasing the chances of AIDS-related conditions.
Carefully following your treatment regimen–known as adherence–helps you to prevent drug resistance. When you skip doses, you may develop HIV strains resistant to drugs you are taking now or drugs you may need in the future. Adherence to your treatment regimen gives you the best chance for long-term success in managing your condition.
Over time, your doctor will conduct periodic CD4 count, viral load tests and drug resistance test, as well as monitor your general health and physical exam results. Your doctor will recommend either continuing or changing your treatment according to how well you respond to it.
Your medical case manager and your doctor can help you work through many of the challenges of living with HIV. They also can point you to additional services you may need. For example, ADAP (AIDS Drug Assistance Program) and Colorado Health Insurance Continuation Program assist HIV+ persons in Colorado who have little or limited health insurance.
You can infect others with HIV by engaging in risky behaviors such as unprotected sex or needle sharing. Tell your sexual partners and those with whom you have shared needles that you are HIV+ and encourage them to be tested for HIV.
You and your doctor can discuss the best way to notify your partners. Some health departments and HIV clinics have anonymous partner notification systems — your partners are told that they have been exposed but are not told who reported their names or when the reported exposure occurred.
If you have not already, begin using HIV-prevention strategies, such as condoms and safer sex practices. If you inject drugs, don't share your needles with anyone else. It is important to use HIV prevention strategies even if your partner is also HIV+. Your partner may have a different strain of the virus that could act differently in your body or may be resistant to different anti-HIV medications.