Knowledge is Power
With ongoing treatment, a person with HIV can live a normal life span and have children without HIV. In addition to improving health, antiretrovirals (ARVs) - the medications used to treat HIV - also help prevent the spread of the disease.
While there is no cure for HIV yet, ARVs work to reduce the amount of virus in the body. An undetectable viral load is when the amount of HIV in the blood is so low it can’t be detected. The lower the viral load the less likely it is to pass HIV to a sexual partner.
To get the full health and prevention benefits of ARVs, it is important that someone with HIV stay connected to care and continue to take their medications as prescribed even if they don’t feel sick.
One of the best things you can do to offer support is learn about the disease and how it can and cannot be spread.
You cannot get HIV through sharing glasses or plates, food, holding hands, toilet seats, or other casual contact. HIV is also not spread through kissing, saliva, tears, or sweat.
The most common way HIV is spread is through unprotected sex with someone with HIV who is not aware of their status or not on ARVs. HIV can also be transmitted by sharing needles.
Finding Out a Loved One Has HIV
When a friend or family member shares that they have HIV, it shows they trust you.
One of the best things you can do is listen without judgment and offer your love and support.
Allow them to guide the conversation and share the level of detail that is comfortable for them. Let them know you are here to provide whatever help they may need.
Some things to keep in mind if someone tells you they have HIV:
- HIV is not a death sentence. With ongoing treatment you can live a normal, healthy lifespan.
- HIV is not spread through casual contact.
- It is possible to have healthy intimate relationships. There are more options than ever to prevent the spread of HIV and keep you both healthy.
- Keep it confidential. It is not your information to share and the consequences of doing so can be serious.
- Your support will help them be healthier.
Helping a Loved One Get Into Care
Getting into and staying in care is critical to living well with HIV. Given the clear benefits, it’s recommended that people diagnosed with HIV start treatment as soon as possible.
You can show your support by offering to go with loved ones with HIV to appointments or to pick up their prescriptions. Keeping up with care and treatment is very important. If someone with HIV stops taking their medications, they can get very sick.
Don’t have health coverage? The Affordable Care Act (ACA) made health insurance easier to get and more affordable for many people with HIV. Click here to find out more about the ACA for people with HIV.
Click here to connect with local HIV/AIDS services in your area, including health clinics as well as support groups. These organizations can help with finding ongoing care and answering questions about health coverage.
Telling a Loved One You Have HIV
Choosing if and when to tell someone that you have HIV is a personal decision.
Having trusted friends and/or family who know your HIV status may help you manage your diagnosis.
Having this conversation may bring up a range of emotions. Some things you may want to consider when sharing this information:
- What kind of relationship do you have with this person?
- What are the possible consequences of telling them that you have HIV?
- Will telling them be a safe experience?
- What is that person’s attitude and knowledge about HIV?
- Is there information about HIV you can share that may be helpful?
- Are there particular issues this person might have that will affect the support they can offer?
If you don’t have someone in your life you feel you can share this information with – or want added support – check out a local support group. You can talk with other people living with HIV and also get help from experts. What’s most important is that you get the support and care you deserve!
It is best to share your status with your partner before becoming intimate. In some states, it is a legal requirement.
While many people living with HIV have loving intimate relationships, for some, disclosure can lead to violence. To minimize risk, consider telling them in a public space with others around but private enough to talk. Or, have them talk with a health care provider to answer any questions they may have. Learn more about the connection between HIV and intimate partner violence.
HIV shouldn’t stand in the way of love. People with different HIV statuses can have healthy and safe intimate relationships. There are more options than ever to prevent the spread of HIV and keep both of you healthy.
Condoms are very effective in preventing the spread of HIV through sex.
Additionally, by keeping up with treatment, people with HIV also significantly reduce the risk of passing the virus to partners.
PrEP, short of pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a once daily pill that when taken as prescribed has been found to be very effective in preventing HIV. PrEP doesn’t protect against other sexually transmitted diseases, so it is advised to continue to use condoms. For people with HIV, keeping up with treatment also significantly reduces the risk of passing the virus to sexual partners. Click here to find a PrEP provider near you.