Taking medicines is the only known way to slow down damage and control HIV infection over time. So getting into care is one of the most important things you can do. A doctor can assess your health and help you make a plan for staying well. That includes making decisions about when to start HIV treatment, and dealing with any other health issues you can take care of in the meantime. Many people get motivated to take better care of themselves when they find out they have HIV. If you’re putting off going to the doctor for any reason, call us to talk about your concerns. Our counselors are here to help.
thriving with HIV
get regular health care
“For a long time I avoided testing because I didn’t want to know. but now that I do know, I can do something about it.”
HIV is a virus that attacks and weakens the immune system — the body’s defense against diseases. If untreated, HIV infection can lead to AIDS, a condition where the body is susceptible to a number of illnesses that can be very serious or even fatal. Damage to the immune system doesn’t happen the same way in everyone. For some, HIV weakens their immune systems within just a few years; while in a very small number of people this doesn’t happen at all.
People living with HIV are encouraged to have regular blood tests to help them make decisions about their treatment plan. The first test — the CD4 count — indicates how many CD4 cells are in the body. CD4s can be thought of as the “managers” of the immune system, so the goal is to keep the CD4 count as high as possible for as long as possible. The other test, called the viral load, shows the amount of HIV in the bloodstream. HIV treatment helps to keep viral load as low as possible for as long as possible, ideally at a level so low that it’s considered “undetectable”
There is still no cure for HIV, but there are highly effective treatments to help control it. It’s important to start treatment well before symptoms appear, because HIV can cause hidden damage to the body long before you notice any symptoms. Many experts believe it’s best for most people to start as soon as they can. Today’s treatments are very effective and have manageable side effects, so many people with HIV now can live near-normal lifespans. Also, taking medications can dramatically lower the chances that you’ll transmit HIV to others. If you have specific questions about medications, side effects or other HIV-related health issues, it’s important to ask your doctor. You can also call AIDS Action’s Health Library at 617-450-1432 or visit the Health Library page at aac.org.
This doesn’t mean a person has been cured, but rather that the virus is under control for now. Someone with an undetectable viral load is very unlikely to transmit HIV because they don’t have much virus in their in their blood, semen, vaginal fluids and the linings of their vagina, anus and rectum. However, if they stop taking their treatments their viral load will increase again, and the risk of transmission will increase too. Viral load can vary over time and be affected by certain infections (like Chlamydia or gonorrhea) that may cause the viral load to increase. So being undetectable at a certain point doesn’t necessarily mean you are still undetectable today. Regular follow-up is important.
develop your support system
sharing the news
Telling others about your HIV status can feel scary, but it may also help you feel better. People who find a way to tell people they trust often feel relieved from the stress of keeping it a secret. You don’t have to tell everyone — and you don’t have to do it all at once. Choose carefully who you tell, and be prepared for various reactions. If you fear abandonment or even violence from those close to you, call 617-267-0159 for help finding a counselor or group that can help you create a safety plan.
Telling co-workers or employers about your HIV status should be considered carefully before making decisions. There are a variety of legal protections in place to protect you from discrimination or breach of confidentiality, but it’s important to know the limits of these protections. To learn more about legal protections in your area and talk through pros and cons of disclosing your HIV status at work, call GLAD Answers at 800-455-4523.
It is especially important to be open about your status with your medical providers, so they can ensure you get the best care possible. If you need help finding providers you can trust, call us at 617-267-0159.
counselors & case managers
We offer a number of ways to support you — whether you’re newly diagnosed, need help sticking with your treatment plan, or just need support with issues you face living day to day . Our health navigators, case managers and advocates at Fenway Health, AIDS Action and MAC can help you with everything from one-on-one support and education; finding financial benefits or substance abuse treatment; to navigating you to health care providers you can trust. If your past or current counselors/case managers don’t seem to be working for you, keep trying until you find right fit. Call us at 617-267-0159 to get connected.
a health checklist for you
The newest drugs to treat HIV are highly effective at controlling the virus, and easier to tolerate too.
Find HIV experienced providers, such as dentists, OB-GYNs, etc.
Keep up with medical appointments
People who miss them tend to do less well with their health.
including annual flu shots.
Be alert to symptoms
and report them to your provider.
Get other conditions under control through proper treatment
including diabetes, hepatitis, high blood pressure, etc.
Consider disclosing your HIV status to those you trust.
Find a social network that suits you.
Share ideas with others.
Improve your diet.
Consider consulting a nutritionist or dietician
Take daily walks and exercise in ways that work for you
Find ways to reduce stress as much as you can.
Get enough good sleep every night.
Take steps to reduce or stop drinking alcohol.
Take steps to reduce or stop using street drugs.
Get into a harm reduction or recovery program if needed.
Ask questions of people you trust when you don’t understand something.
Ask For Help
There are many resources available.