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Living with HIV

Photo of doctor showing patient tabletToday, an estimated 1.2 million people are living with HIV in the United States. Thanks to better treatments, people with HIV are now living longer—and with a better quality of life—than ever before. If you are living with HIV, it's important to make choices that keep you healthy and protect others.

Stay healthy.

You should start medical care and begin HIV treatment as soon as you are diagnosed with HIV. Taking medicine to treat HIV, called antiretroviral therapy or ART, is recommended for all people with HIV. Taking medicine to treat HIV slows the progression of HIV and helps protect your immune system. The medicine can keep you healthy for many years and greatly reduces your chance of transmitting HIV to sex partners if taken the right way, every day.

If you’re taking medicine to treat HIV, visit your health care provider regularly and always take your medicine as directed to keep your viral load (the amount of HIV in the blood and elsewhere in the body) as low as possible.

Visit HIV Treatment Works to find information on getting in care and staying in care if you have HIV.

Do tell.

Photo of two men on a date at a cafeIt’s important to disclose your HIV status to your sex and needle-sharing partners even if you are uncomfortable doing it. Communicating with each other about your HIV status allows you and your partner to take steps to keep both of you healthy.

Many resources can help you learn ways to disclose your status to your partners. For tips on how to start the conversation with your partner, check out CDC’s Let’s Stop HIV Together and Start Talking campaigns.

Also, ask your health department about free partner notification services. Health department staff can help find your sex or needle-sharing partners to let them know they may have been exposed to HIV and provide them with testing, counseling, and referrals for other services. These partner notification services will not reveal your name unless you want to work with them to tell your partners.

Many states have laws that require you to tell your sexual partners if you’re HIV-positive before you have sex (anal, vaginal, or oral) or tell your needle-sharing partners before you share drugs or needles to inject drugs. In some states, you can be charged with a crime if you don’t tell your partner your HIV status, even if your partner doesn’t become infected.

Get support.

Receiving a diagnosis of HIV can be a life-changing event. People can feel many emotions—sadness, hopelessness, and even anger. Allied health care providers and social service providers, often available at your health care provider’s office, will have the tools to help you work through the early stages of your diagnosis and begin to manage your HIV.

Talking to others who have HIV may also be helpful. Find a local HIV support group. Learn about how other people living with HIV have handled their diagnosis.

You can view stories and testimonials of how people are living well with HIV on the websites for Let’s Stop HIV Together and HIV Treatment Works. You can also find many other resources on HIV Treatment Works for people living with HIV.

Reduce the risk to others.

Photo of a smiling pregnant woman looking at herself in the mirrorHIV is spread through certain body fluids from an HIV-infected person: blood, semen (cum), pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum), rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. In the United States, HIV is most often transmitted by having anal or vaginal sex with someone who has HIV without using a condom or taking medicines to prevent or treat HIV. In addition, a mother can pass HIV to her baby during pregnancy, during labor, through breastfeeding, or by pre-chewing her baby's food.

The higher your viral load, the more likely you are to transmit HIV to others. When your viral load is very low (called viral suppression, with less than 200 copies per milliliter of blood) or undetectable (about 40 copies per milliliter of blood), your chance of transmitting HIV is greatly reduced. However, this is true only if you can stay virally suppressed. One thing that can increase viral load is not taking HIV medicines the right way, every day.

You can also protect your partners by getting tested and treated for other STDs. If you have both HIV and some other STD with sores, like syphilis, your risk of transmitting HIV can be about 3 times as high as if you didn’t have any STD with sores.

Taking other actions, like using a condom the right way every time you have sex or having your partners take daily medicine to prevent HIV (called pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP) can lower your chances of transmitting HIV even more.

Read more about medicines (antiretroviral treatments) for people living with HIV.

Read more on HIV and opportunistic infections (infections that are more frequent or more severe because of immunosuppression in HIV-infected persons).

What does antiretroviral therapy do?

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) helps control HIV by preventing it from reproducing in the body. This lowers the amount of HIV virus in the blood (viral load). ART is usually taken as a combination of three or more drugs.

What is a viral load?

Viral load is a technical term that is a measure of the number of virus particles present in the bloodstream, expressed as copies of virus per milliliter of blood. This measurement helps in treatment decisions and to monitor the efficacy of a treatment.

What does it mean when the viral load is undetectable?

Having an undetectable viral load does not mean you are cured and no longer have HIV. It means that the amount of virus in your body is so low that the test cannot detect it. Viral load tests are not perfect and use only a small sample of blood. If there is very little virus in the sample, the test may miss it. There also may be temporary increases in viral load between tests.

Are the HIV cures I read about on the Internet real?

No, there is no cure for HIV infection. Some people have claimed to have discovered a cure for HIV and attempted to sell these cures to people living with HIV. Many of these fake "cures" can do additional physical and mental harm to people living with HIV and prevent them from seeking proven treatments and support that can extend their lives.

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