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Living with HIV

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What is HIV?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is the virus that causes AIDS. People infected with HIV can remain healthy for years. Studies show that certain treatments can help extend and improve life for a person with HIV.

HIV can be spread mainly:
  • by having unprotected sex with someone infected with HIV;
  • by sharing needles with a person who has HIV to inject drugs, pierce ears, make tattoos; and
  • by a mother who has HIV to her baby before, during and after birth through breast feeding.

Current research shows that HIV is not spread through nonsexual, everyday activities, casual contact or through the air.

Should I have the HIV antibody test?
Yes, especially if you think that you may be infected. The sooner you know the results, the sooner you can receive treatment if you are infected. But before you have the test, talk with an AIDS counselor or health care provider about:
  • testing procedure and whether the test is "confidential" or "anonymous".
  • what the results may mean.

A positive test result means that you've been infected with HIV. Positive test results do not mean that you have AIDS or are likely to develop AIDS soon. However, they do mean that you can infect others with HIV.

Negative test results mean that you are probably not infected with HIV. You may be advised to be tested again. Ask how often you should be tested. A negative test result does not mean that you are immune to HIV, or that you can't get infected.

Discuss your results with a counselor or health care provider. Ask questions. Talk about any concerns you may have.

What should I do if my test result is positive?
Give yourself time to work through your feelings. It's OK (and very common) to feel afraid, angry, lonely, and depressed. Talk about your feelings with someone you trust. See a doctor, and learn all you can about living with HIV and about treatments. Keep up with the latest news, and talk with knowledgeable people.

Find a support group. There are many people who can help. Urge your sex and/or drug partner(s) to get counseling and testing too.

Remember, you are not alone. Turn to your partner, friends, family, and the sources of help in this document. Be honest and open with them, and with yourself.

How can I take charge of my life?
Find a physician or clinic experienced in treating people with HIV. Ask friends, relatives, or local AIDS organizations for help finding an appropriate provider.

Build a good relationship with your health care provider. He or she can provide expert health advice, referrals, and support. Bring a list of questions to ask and a notebook, so you can write down the answers.

Check with your health insurance policy. To find out what's covered and what's not, ask for a copy of your policy from your personnel director at work or your insurance agent. It's your right to ask for one.

Have checkups as often as recommended. Get a T-cell count (T-cells are a type of white blood cell that helps fight infection), a viral load test, and if recommended a TB (tuberculosis) test, any shots (vaccinations) you should have, and discuss anti-viral therapy or other treatment with your doctor.

How can I protect myself and others?
Take the issue of sex seriously. Since HIV can be spread through sexual contact, you must explore the options available. Not having sex is the safest option. Abstinence is the only sure way to avoid HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and pregnancy. If you do decide to have sex, always use a latex condom. Condoms are not foolproof, but when used properly they are highly effective in preventing HIV infection and other STDs. Always follow the directions on the condom package:
  • Use a new condom each time you have sex.
  • Handle the condom carefully.
  • Put the condom on as soon as the penis is erect.
  • Squeeze out any air at the tip of the condom.
  • Use a water based lubricant with the condom for vaginal or anal sex.
  • Never use oil based lubricants (Vaseline/petroleum jelly, massage oils, or body lotions) with latex condoms. Oil based products can cause condoms to break.
  • Hold the condom firmly by the rim while withdrawing after ejaculation.
  • Wash your hands after disposing of the condom.
  • Talk with your partner about HIV. Tell him or her you're infected and then discuss the options.

If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, ask you health care provider or family planning service for advice.

Avoid sharing personal care items such as razors and toothbrushes. But there is no need to have separate sets of dishes, utensils, etc.

Remember, HIV is NOT spread by casual contact. There's no reason to avoid being around people who are HIV positive.

Should I tell people that I'm infected?
This decision is a very personal one. It may help to talk with a counselor or a support group. You should tell any persons whom you may have put at risk so that they can take steps to protect themselves and others. Also, tell your dentist and other health care providers.

Are there drugs that I should take?
There are several treatment options for HIV infection and related illnesses. Ask you health care provider about which ones may be best for you. As with any drug, talk about the risks, benefits, and cost with your health care provider.

What are the signs of HIV infection?
For many people infected with HIV, there are no visible signs. Signs may take many years to appear. To be safe, see your health care provider if any of the following symptoms last more than a week:
  • swollen glands
  • night sweats
  • unexplained weight loss
  • diarrhea
  • constant tiredness
  • white spots or unusual marks in your mouth
  • coughing
  • mental impairment/confusion
  • visual/hearing problems

Sources for Help, Support, and Information
  • health care providers, hospitals, and health clinics that regularly help people with HIV
  • support groups for people with HIV or AIDS
  • AIDS organizations
  • local and state health departments
  • mental health providers
  • social security for people living with HIV/AIDS
  • members of the clergy

For legal and/or insurance information:
  • legal offices of AIDS organizations
  • legal aid offices
  • your state's department of insurance
  • insurance agents
  • lawyers

For more information contact:
  • CDC National AIDS Hotline 1-800-342-AIDS
  • NIAID AIDS Clinical Trails Information Service 1-800-874-2572
  • Project Inform 1-800-822-7422
  • National AIDS Information Clearinghouse 1-800-458-5231
  • Gay Men's Health Crisis Hotline 1-212-807-6655

For specific sources of help in your area, look in the front of the White Pages under "Community Service Numbers" or in the Yellow Pages under "AIDS:". And don't forget that your partner, friends, and relatives can be great sources of love and support.

For more information about HIV/AIDS, call 1-800-TALK-HIV.