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Sharing Your Status

Telling others that you have HIV can be difficult, but it is an important part of managing your infection.

Am I Legally Required To Share My HIV Status With Others?

Even though disclosing your HIV status may be uncomfortable, doing so allows others to protect themselves and gives you protection under the law.

Health care providers and other HIV-related service providers need to know so that they can support you and make sure you have access to the health care services that you need. Disclosing your HIV status also protects your health care provider. Even though health care providers take precautions, such as wearing gloves to avoid coming into direct contact with a patient’s blood, letting them know you have HIV will remind them to be very careful about those precautions.

Sex or injection drug-use partners need to know to protect their health. Telling new partners that you have HIV before you have sex or inject drugs together allows them to make decisions that can protect their health, like going on PrEP or using PEP and using condoms consistently and correctly. In some states, there are laws that require you to share your HIV status with your sex and injection drug-use partners.

You do not have to tell your employer. But, if you have to take extended leave or alter your schedule, you may want to. By law, your disclosure is confidential.

The following resources can provide more information on sharing your HIV status with others:

How Can I Get Help Telling My Partners That They May Have Been Exposed To HIV?

If you have HIV or another sexually transmitted disease (STD) (like syphilis, gonorrhea, or chlamydia), it is very important to let your current and former sex or injection drug-use partners know that they may have been exposed. Informing partners that you have HIV lets them know that they should be tested for HIV. These conversations can be challenging because you may have become infected by one of these individuals or you may have infected one or more of them without knowing.

There are a few ways to let your partners know:

  • You tell your partners:
    • You take on the responsibility of letting your current and former partners know of their exposure.
    • You give them information on local services, including counseling and testing.
  • The health department tells your partners ("Partner Services"):
    • You give your current and former partners’ names to the health department.
    • Your partners are located and made aware of their exposure by health department staff. It is important to know that health department staff do not use your name when contacting your partners.
    • Your partners are given or referred for counseling, testing, treatment, and other services by the health department.
  • You and the health department staff work together to tell your partners ("Partner Services"):
    • You work with health department staff to let your partners know of their exposure.
    • Health department staff are there to help you during the process and provide your partners with information, access to counseling, testing, and other resources.

What Is Partner Services?

Partner Services provides many free services to people living with HIV or other STDs and their partners. Through Partner Services, health department staff notify your current and former sex and/or injection drug-use partners that they may have been exposed to HIV or another STD and provide them with testing, counseling, and referrals for other services.

Partner Services:

  • Ensures that your sex or injection drug-use partners know of their possible exposure to HIV or another STD without using your name,
  • Ensures that trained staff contact your partners,
  • Coaches you on how to let your sex or injection drug-use partners know about their exposure, if you choose to tell your partners yourself,
  • Helps your sex or injection drug-use partners get tested quickly and, if they test positive, get into care and treatment quickly, and
  • Serves as another free resource for education and counseling for you to live healthier with HIV.

Partner Services programs are available through health departments and some medical offices or clinics. Your health care provider, social worker, case manager, patient navigator, or HIV testing center can help put you in touch with a Partner Services program.

Should I Share My HIV Status With My Friends And Family?

Sharing your HIV status with certain family members and friends has both emotional and practical benefits. Emotionally, having trusted people to talk to can help you deal with the early stages of dealing with an HIV diagnosis. They can also support you with the longer-term issues of treatment adherence and disclosing to others. Practically, trusting people with this knowledge will allow them to speak for you in case of an emergency and to help you navigate the medical system. Don’t overlook the expertise of individuals you know. Many people have had these difficult conversations and they can help you work through what you will say. For example:

  • Friends or family members living with HIV can share with you how they told other people in their lives.
  • Your health care provider, social worker, or case manager can help you practice telling people and can share their experiences helping other patients share this information.
  • Join an HIV support group in your area and hear how others told people in their lives.
  • CDC’s Act Against AIDS campaign HIV Treatment Works features people living with HIV and their stories, including some testimonials about disclosure. The Act Against AIDS campaigns Let’s Stop HIV Together and Start Talking. Stop HIV. also feature testimonials from people living with HIV. The campaigns also offer conversation starters to help people share that they have HIV.

What Are Some Conversation Starters To Begin Talking About My Status With Others?

Some conversation starters to help you begin talking about your status with others include:

  • Revealing your HIV-positive status:
    • There’s something I want to tell you, I’ve been living with HIV since [xx year]. Have you ever known someone with HIV?
    • About a year ago, I found out that I’m HIV-positive. Since then, I’ve been taking HIV medication consistently and correctly. The virus is controlled and at undetectable levels, and I feel good.
    • I really like you, and like where this is going, but before we go any further, there’s something I want to tell you. I’m HIV-positive.

What Are Some Conversation Starters To Begin Talking About Safer Sex Options With My Partners?

Some conversation starters to help you begin talking about safer sex options with your partners include:

  • Talking about safer sex options with your partner(s):
    • Let’s start talking about ways to keep each other healthy and safe. When was the last time you were tested for HIV?
    • It’s really important to reduce our risk and keep you negative. The fact that I’m in treatment/on meds and have an undetectable viral load helps. We can talk about how to choose things to do that are less risky.
    • I’m living with HIV, and the fact that we are using condoms is great, but we need to make sure we do everything we can to keep you safe.
    • Did you know that there are medicines that you can take that can further reduce the chance of you getting HIV? Have you heard of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis)? Maybe we should talk to our doctors to see if it’s right for us.
    • I can’t believe the condom broke. It’s a good thing there are medicines to help reduce the chance of getting HIV. We should go to the doctor or emergency room right now and ask about PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis).
    • If we’re going to have sex, we should use condoms.
    • Can we talk about sex? Safer sex is really important to me.
    • So we haven’t really talked about it, but can we agree that when the time comes, we’ll use condoms to keep each other safe?
    • Maybe we should consider doing things that have a lower chance of getting or transmitting HIV, like oral sex.
    • I know we just met and we don’t know everything about each other, but you should know that practicing safer sex is really important to me. When is the last time you were tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases?
  • For partners that are both living with HIV:
    • If we’re going to have sex, let’s get tested for other STDs together before we take that step.
    • Getting an STD could really compromise our health. Let’s stay healthy and get tested for STDs regularly.
    • Let’s talk about how we can practice safer sex so that we don’t increase our chances of getting an STD.

Additional conversation starters are available from CDC’s Act Against Aids Campaign Start Talking. Stop HIV.

What is HIV Stigma?

Stigma can be a complex barrier to health care for people living with HIV/AIDS. Today, with HIV treatment, many people can live a long and healthy life. However, the stigma of the disease can have a negative effect on people living with HIV.

HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination refer to prejudice, negative attitudes, abuse, and maltreatment directed at people living with HIV and AIDS. Some examples of stigma and discrimination include being shunned by family, peers, and the wider community; poor treatment in health care and education settings; loss of rights; psychological damage; and a negative effect on the success of HIV testing and treatment.

HIV/AIDS stigma is not only experienced by people who are living with the disease. It also is experienced by family and friends, HIV service providers, and members of groups that have been heavily impacted by HIV/AIDS, such as gay and bisexual men, homeless individuals, street youth, and mentally ill individuals.

The Act Against AIDS campaign HIV Treatment Works features people living with HIV and their stories, including some testimonials about dealing with stigma. The Act Against AIDS campaign Let’s Stop HIV Together has additional information on stigma for persons living with HIV. The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program is another helpful resource on stigma.

What Resources Are Available To Me For Support?

Know your rights. You are entitled to the same rights as any other patient in the medical system. These rights include safety, competent medical care, and confidentiality.

  • The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program helps people with HIV/AIDS who have nowhere else to turn for the care they need. If you are living with HIV, you can get medical care and some other services — even if you do not have health insurance or money to pay for health services.
  • The Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) Program is the only Federal program dedicated to the housing needs of people living with HIV/AIDS. Under the HOPWA Program, HUD makes grants to local communities, states, and nonprofit organizations for projects that benefit low-income people living with HIV/AIDS and their families.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people who are discriminated against because they have HIV or have a relationship with someone who has HIV.
  • If you have HIV/AIDS and cannot work, you may qualify for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration.
  • The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a law that was passed to help ensure that Americans have secure, stable, and affordable health insurance. The ACA created several changes that expand access to coverage for people living with HIV. Because coverage varies by state, talk to your health care provider or a social worker to get information about the coverage available where you live. You can find additional information about the ACA and living with HIV from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. You can also contact the ACA helpline at 1-800-318-2596 for more information.
  • You may also choose to join an HIV support group of peers living with HIV. These support groups usually meet in a safe and supportive environment to provide support to other people living with HIV.

Additional resources are available in the Resources Section of the CDC Act Against AIDS campaign HIV Treatment Works.