I’ve just found out that I have HIV, what can I expect to happen to me?

For most people, being diagnosed with HIV is a life-changing experience.

You’re likely to be experiencing a whole range of emotions at this time. Finding out that you have HIV is likely to have emotional and practical implications.

But finding out you have HIV means that you’re in the best position to look after your health, including accessing HIV treatment and care. There are organisations all over the world that provide support to people who have HIV. In many cases, they will also be able to help you find out how to get the best available treatment and care where you live.

And it’s reassuring to know that people with HIV are loved and accepted, maintain and form relationships, have children, and lead fulfilling and productive lives.

Where next?

How is HIV treated?

Treatment for HIV involves taking a combination of anti-HIV drugs. This treatment has a very powerful anti-HIV effect and stops the virus from reproducing.

This allows the immune system to strengthen and fight infections effectively.

To get the most benefit from your HIV treatment, you need to take it as prescribed. This is often called ‘adherence’.

Medical care for HIV happens in a wide range of hospital and other medical settings, depending on where you are in the world.

You can use the e-atlas on this website to find treatment centres where you are.

Where can I go for support?

You may find that a lot of support is available from the place where you get your HIV medical care, such as an HIV clinic.

Clinics may have counsellors or other staff who can help you come to terms with your diagnosis, or talk to you about any problems you are having. They can also often refer you to specialist services if that is necessary.

Counselling and support may also be available from a local HIV charity, or other community organisation.

In some cases, these organisations may be able to refer you to specialist services, offering help with issues such as housing, financial advice or social support.

Where next?

Can HIV be cured?

There has been, and continues to be, lots of research into possible cures.

Current treatment means that many people with HIV are living long and healthy lives, but it does not cure HIV.

What can I do to help myself?

There’s a lot you can do to look after your physical and mental health and general wellbeing.

Leading a healthy lifestyle is a good start. This includes getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising, not smoking, only drinking sensible amounts of alcohol, and avoiding or moderating drug use.

Attending your clinic appointments is important and, if you are on HIV treatment, then taking it properly is a very important part of staying well.

It’s also important to look after your mental health and emotional wellbeing. Depression and anxiety are common issues, and acknowledging how you feel and finding support to deal with concerns or mental health issues should not be overlooked. Living with HIV can be hard at times, and most people need the help of others from time to time. Don’t be frightened or embarrassed to ask for help.

Where next?

Can I still have a baby?

Many women have an HIV test when they are pregnant. HIV can be passed on from a mother to her baby during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. However, with the right treatment and care, it’s possible for mother with HIV to have a baby without passing on HIV.

Taking HIV treatment during pregnancy, having a carefully managed birth, and not breastfeeding can reduce the risk of a mother passing on HIV to her baby to very low levels.

If you are thinking of having a baby, or learn that you are pregnant, it’s important that you discuss this with your healthcare team. They can talk to you about the best ways of staying well during your pregnancy and of having a healthy child.

For any couple in which one partner has HIV and the other does not, the risk of passing on HIV during sex means they have to think carefully about having unprotected sex in order to have a baby. Effective HIV treatment can reduce the risk of HIV transmission and some couples decide to have unprotected sex on the days when the woman is most fertile in order to conceive. It’s important to talk to each other about these issues and it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare team for more information about your options.

If the man has HIV and he is on effective HIV treatment, it may be considered sufficiently low risk to have unprotected sex on the days when the woman is most fertile in order to conceive. In the UK, doctors now recommend this as the safest way to biologically father a child, provided certain conditions are met. There is also a process called ‘sperm washing’ which removes HIV from seminal fluid, but it is not widely available and can be expensive.

If the woman has HIV, a simple self-insemination technique can allow her to become pregnant without putting her partner at risk of HIV.

Where next?

Do I have to tell anyone that I have HIV?

It’s up to you who you decide to tell. Some people are very open about their HIV status, and some people only tell a small number of people. In many situations, it is simply not relevant.

You will need to weigh up the pros and cons of telling someone that you have HIV.

On the one hand, restricting the number of people who know that you have HIV will keep the information private. Some people fear stigma, rejection, or even violence because they have HIV.

But by not telling anyone, it can also mean that you’re unable to access valuable sources of love, help and support. Many people find that they are loved by their partners and families, supported by their friends, and embraced by their community.

Telling current, previous or new sexual partners can be a difficult decision. You could talk this over with someone at your clinic.

In some countries there are laws setting out when you do or don’t need to tell certain people about your HIV status.

And many countries in the world have some sort of legislation in place to protect people living with HIV against discrimination if they do tell people about their HIV.

What do I need to know about HIV transmission and the law?

In a number of countries, criminal law is being used in cases where HIV has been passed on from one person to another, or even when there is a perceived risk that this might have happened (exposure). This is mostly applied to cases of possible sexual transmission.

In some cases, existing laws on assault are used. In others, legislation has been created especially to deal with the situation where someone is considered to have exposed someone to HIV or passed it on.

This is sometimes called either ‘intentional’ (where someone is considered to have acted deliberately) or ‘reckless’ (where they were considered not to have taken enough care to avoid exposure or passing on HIV).

It generally means that someone did not disclose their HIV-positive status to their sexual partner, and did not take enough care to avoid the risk of transmission. The detail of the laws varies a lot from country to country.

This area of law is very complicated, especially as it can be very hard to prove (or disprove) someone’s role and behaviour in exposing or transmitting HIV to another person.

If you have a complaint made against you under one of these laws, it is very important that you get expert legal advice as soon as possible. An HIV support organisation is often a good place to start in finding this advice.

If you think you would like to make a complaint against someone, it’s equally important you get some advice and the chance to talk it through. Once you go to the police, it can be hard to change your mind about this action. An HIV organisation will be able to help you make a decision about the best action to take.

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