Living with HIV
Being diagnosed with HIV infection doesn't mean the end of your life. You can take steps to avoid the onset of AIDS, and you can live an active, productive life.
You will likely have a team of people involved in your care, many of them healthcare providers. To successfully manage HIV, it is important that you stick to your treatments. Taking medicine, known as antiretroviral therapy (ART), is just one part of your overall care plan. Partner with your health care providers to ensure you stay as healthy as possible.
Today, an estimated 1.1 million people are living with HIV in the United States. Thanks to better treatments, people with HIV and AIDS in this country are now living longer than ever.
How HIV is Spread
HIV is spread through body fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk. HIV is most commonly passed from one person to another through unprotected anal, vaginal, or oral sex and by sharing needles or drug works. In addition, a mother can pass HIV to her baby during pregnancy, during labor, or through breastfeeding.
Protect yourself. Protect others.
When told that they have HIV, most people change their sexual or drug-use behaviors in order to protect themselves and others. However, for a number of reasons, some people continue certain behaviors that can put their own health and that of others at risk.
Be sure that your partner knows that you have HIV. Then he or she will know it's important to be safe during all sexual activity and to be tested often for HIV.
Don't take risks.
- Abstinence (not having sex) is the best way to prevent the spread of HIV. If abstinence is not possible, use condoms whenever you have sex—vaginal, anal, or oral—to help prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
- Know all the risks. Not all types of sexual activity have the same risk. In general terms:
- Don't share items that may have your blood on them, such as razors or toothbrushes.
- Don't share drug works. Blood can get into needles, syringes, and other works. If the blood has HIV in it, the infection can be spread to the next user.
If you're living with HIV.
Thanks to new medicines, you can live longer with HIV—and with a better quality of life—than ever before. The most important thing that you can do is make choices that keep you healthy and protect others.
Don't put others at risk.
If you have HIV, there is a risk of giving it to others through unsafe actions. HIV can live in your body ﬂuids and throat tissue, even when your viral load is low. Protect others by making sure they do not come into contact with your body ﬂuids, such as blood, semen, vaginal ﬂuids, anal ﬂuids, and breast milk. The higher your viral load, the greater the risk. Even people with viral loads lower than 3,500 can spread the disease to others. Also, protect others by keeping yourself healthy. If you have HIV plus another STD or hepatitis, you are three to ﬁve times more likely to spread HIV than if you only have HIV.
For more information, read the brochure “Separating Facts from Fiction.”
It's very important for you to take your HIV medicines exactly as directed. If you don't, your CD4 count may go down and your viral load may go up. Not taking your medicines as directed can also make the HIV virus resistant, which means the medicines won't help you anymore. Tell your doctor if your medicines are making you sick. He or she may be able to help you deal with side effects and feel better. Don't just stop taking your medicines.
How do you let your partners know they have been exposed to HIV?
Partner Services will help you inform your partners about their exposure. Partner Services provides many free services to persons with HIV or other STDs and their partners. Through Partner Services, health department staff help find sex or drug-injection partners to let them know of their risk of being exposed to HIV or another STD and provide them with testing, counseling, and referrals for other services.
Related Questions and Answers
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.
Visit HIV Treament Works to find information encouraging people living with HIV to get into care and stay on treatment, as well as resources on how to live well with HIV.
- Page last reviewed: November 20, 2013
- Page last updated: April 27, 2015
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