Friday 29 November 2019
How much do you actually know about HIV and AIDS? If most of what you know comes from movies or news stories from the 1980s and 90s, it might be time to update your information.
Did you know, for example, that modern medicines mean that most people in Australia who contract HIV will never develop AIDS, and can go on to live a very normal life? Or that theres medication that can protect people from contracting HIV in the first place?
We spoke with Dr Graham Neilsen,a specialist sexual health physician, and Nathan, a young man who has HIV, about what HIV is, how it can be prevented and treated, and what its like to live with HIV in modern-day Queensland.
What Are The Symptoms Of Hiv
After the first month or so, HIV enters the clinical latency stage. This stage can last from a few years to a few decades.
Some people dont have any symptoms during this time, while others may have minimal or nonspecific symptoms. A nonspecific symptom is a symptom that doesnt pertain to one specific disease or condition.
These nonspecific symptoms may include:
- headaches and other aches and pains
- swollen lymph nodes
- recurrent oral or vaginal yeast infections
As with the early stage, HIV is still transferable during this time even without symptoms and can be transmitted to another person.
However, a person wont know they have HIV unless they get tested. If someone has these symptoms and thinks they may have been exposed to HIV, its important that they get tested.
HIV symptoms at this stage may come and go, or they may progress rapidly. This progression can be slowed substantially with treatment.
With the consistent use of this antiretroviral therapy, chronic HIV can last for decades and will likely not develop into AIDS, if treatment was started early enough.
The cause of the rash determines:
- how it looks
- how it can be treated depends on the cause
What If I Test Positive
If youve received news that youve tested positive for HIV, its normal if you feel shocked, confused or upset. However, we want to assure you if youve been diagnosed with HIV, youre not alone.
It is important to take a bit of time to get your head around the news. Once youve done that, taking a few key next steps can help you feel like you are taking control of your health.
There are excellent healthcare and support services available for people who test HIV positive in Australia. Thats largely due to the excellent healthcare and access to treatment we are privileged with. Most gay guys with HIV are living full lives and enjoying good health and you can too.
Here are some strategies to help you adjust and plan for the future.
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How Do I Talk With People About Having Hiv
It might feel scary to admit that you have HIV, but talking about things can really ease your mind. You could lean on a close, non-judgmental friend or family member whom you trust to keep the conversation private. Counselors and support groups can also be sources of comfort and they can help you figure out how to talk with others about your HIV. Be careful about who you tell your status to people with HIV sometimes deal with unfair discrimination.
Theres no one right way to talk to your partners about having HIV, but here are some basic tips that might help:
Try to stay calm and remember that youre not the only one dealing with this. Millions of people have HIV, and plenty of them are in relationships. Try to go into the conversation with a calm, positive attitude. Having HIV is a health issue, and it doesnt mean anything about you as a person.
Know your HIV and AIDS facts. There are a lot of myths about HIV out there, so read up on the facts and be ready to answer your partners questions. Check out HIV.gov. Let your partner know there are medications that can help you live for a long time and avoid passing HIV to them. Safer sex like condoms and PrEP can also help protect your partner.
Its really important to also tell your past partners that you have HIV, so they can get tested, too. A lot of health departments have programs that let your partners know they were exposed to HIV without giving them your name unless you want them to.
How Is Hiv Treated
Australians can live well with HIV. Treatments have changed over time, dramatically improving the quality and length of life for someone who is HIV positive.
It is also important to have a strong support network. Evidence suggests that involving others can improve your mental health and wellbeing and help you maintain treatment.
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Hiv Stigma And Discrimination
HIV can prompt intense feelings in people, regardless of their HIV status. It is sometimes viewed with a sense of unacceptability or disgrace. A person with HIV may feel shame and despair about their status. An HIV-negative person may be fearful or angry when they discover someone has HIV. The relationship of these feelings to HIV is referred to as stigma.Felt stigma refers to deep feelings of shame and self-loathing, and the expectation of discrimination. It can have serious negative impacts on the health and wellbeing of people living with HIV by discouraging them from getting tested, receiving support, or taking treatment. It may also lead people to engage in high-risk behaviours that harm their health, and contribute to new HIV infections.Enacted stigma is the experience of unfair treatment by others. For people living with HIV this can be in the form of being treated differently and poorly, or through rejection, abuse, or discrimination.HIV stigma is particularly harmful when it overlaps with other factors that are stigmatised such as if a person uses drugs, is a sex worker, is trans or gender diverse.Breaking down stigma is a community response where:
If you have experienced stigma or discrimination from a health care provider, and are unable to resolve your complaint with them directly, contact the Health Complaints Commissioner
Tests For Hiv And Aids
Blood tests are the most common way to diagnose the human immunodeficiency virus , the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome . These tests look for antibodies to the virus that are present in the blood of infected individuals. People exposed to the virus should get tested immediately.
Early testing is crucial with HIV. If you test positive for the virus, you and your doctor can develop a treatment plan to help fight HIV and ward off complications. Early testing also can alert you to avoid high-risk behavior that could spread the virus to others.
Because it can take from six weeks to six months to develop antibodies to the virus, follow-up tests may be needed. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, medical history and risk factors and perform a physical examination.
The primary tests for diagnosing HIV and AIDs include:
UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.
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Hiv Stands For Human Immunodeficiency Virus Its A Virus Thats Passed From Person To Person Through The Blood Stream
Once HIV is in the blood stream, it begins to attack a persons immune system and works to kill off healthy immune system cells.
Theres currently no cure for HIV once a person is diagnosed with the virus it stays in their system for life. There are, however, many quality medications available to help people who live with HIV to manage the virus, and live long, healthy lives.
During A Persons First Visit With A Health Care Provider Is There Time To Ask Questions
Yes, an initial visit with a health care provider is a good time to ask questions. The following are some questions that people with newly diagnosed HIV typically ask:
- Because I have HIV, will I eventually get AIDS?
- What can I do to stay healthy and avoid getting other infections?
- How can I prevent passing HIV to others?
- How will HIV treatment affect my lifestyle?
- How should I tell my partner that I have HIV?
- Is there any reason to tell my employer and those I work with that I have HIV?
- Are there support groups for people with HIV?
- Are there resources available to help me pay for my HIV medicines?
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Changing Attitudes About Hiv
When someone is diagnosed with HIV, other people may have negative attitudes and beliefs about that person’s behaviour, lifestyle or circumstances in life. These negative associations form what’s called stigma, an experience that can decrease quality of life because it includes:
Efforts to end stigma will help to:
- prevent new infections
- ensure that people living with HIV receive the care, treatment and support they need
What Happens If You Test Positive
If you test positive on a rapid test, you will need to get a standard test with a blood draw to confirm the result. If you receive a positive result after taking a standard test, it means that you have HIV.
Its important to know that people with HIV who are diagnosed early and get the right care, treatment and support can live long, healthy and full lives. HIV treatment involves seeing a doctor regularly and taking HIV medication .
The person who gives you your result will talk to you about next steps, including linking you to HIV care and other supports. Your past sex partners and people you have shared drug use equipment with will be told that they may have been exposed to HIV. You can tell these people yourself, or if you prefer public health officials can contact them. Public health will not use your name when talking to these people. You may also be connected to public health workers in your community to help you with care, treatment and other support. If you are not referred to a healthcare provider, an HIV organization may be able to help you find one. HIV organizations can also provide information and counselling and may be able to connect you with other health and social services in your area.
After you are diagnosed with HIV, you can think about how you will prevent passing HIV to others.
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Living With Hiv: What To Expect And Tips For Coping
The most important thing is to start antiretroviral treatment as soon as possible. By taking medications exactly as prescribed, people living with HIV can keep their viral load low and their immune system strong.
Its also important to follow up with a healthcare provider regularly.
Other ways people living with HIV can improve their health include:
- Make their health their top priority. Steps to help people living with HIV feel their best include:
- fueling their body with a well-balanced diet
- exercising regularly
- avoiding tobacco and other drugs
- reporting any new symptoms to their healthcare provider right away
Why Is Early Treatment Important
Since 2015, Australias policy has allowed people to seek treatment as soon as they are diagnosed, regardless of their CD4 count. Why? Well, we know that treatment reduces your viral load usually to undetectable levels which means you are much less likely to pass on HIV to your partner or partners and it will help stop the spread of HIV in our community.
We also know that untreated HIV may have detrimental effects on the body right from the start. Early treatment may prevent this damage, and reduce your risk of developing a number of other health conditions including cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurologic complications.
Further, starting treatment early can dramatically increase your lifespan and quality of life. In fact, its believed that people who start treatment earlier will probably enjoy a normal life expectancy.
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Coping With A Positive Hiv Diagnosis
Being diagnosed with HIV can be scary and overwhelming, even when people know that effective treatment is available. However, there are several things that can help you cope with a new HIV diagnosis, including the following:
- Seek out reliable information about HIV. Accurate information about the virus can help you make better decisions about treatment and feel better about your prognosis.
- Find a doctor with whom you feel comfortable. This can make a big difference in your willingness to follow up with care. It can also help you feel more in control.
- Talk to other people in similar circumstances. Joining support groups for people with HIV can make you feel less alone.
- Consider speaking with a therapist. Being diagnosed with HIV can cause depression, anxiety, and similar conditions. Finding a good therapist can help you cope.
Most importantly, remember that people can live long, healthy lives with HIV. Your new diagnosis doesn’t need to be the determining factor in your life.
Start Hiv Treatment As Soon As Possible After Diagnosis
- Get in care and take medicine to treat HIV .
- Taking HIV medicine can reduce the amount of HIV in the blood .
- HIV medicine can make the viral load very low . Viral suppression is defined as having less than 200 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood.
- HIV medicine can make the viral load so low that a test cant detect it .
- Getting and keeping an undetectable viral load is the best thing you can do to stay healthy. Having an undetectable viral load also helps prevent transmission to others. In fact, if you have an undetectable viral load, you have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative partner through sex. Most people can get the virus under control within six months.
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What Is The Next Step After Testing Positive For Hiv
Testing positive for HIV often leaves a person overwhelmed with questions and concerns. It is important to remember that HIV can be treated effectively with HIV medicines. Treatment with HIV medicines is recommended for everyone with HIV. HIV medicines help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives and reduce the risk of HIV transmission.
The first step after testing positive for HIV is to see a health care provider, even if you do not feel sick. Prompt medical care and treatment with HIV medicines as soon as possible is the best way to stay healthy.
What Do I Do If I Find Out I Have Hiv
Millions of people have HIV youre definitely not alone. Most people get at least one STD in their lifetime, and having HIV or another STD is nothing to feel ashamed of or embarrassed about. It doesnt mean youre dirty or a bad person.
Finding out that you have HIV can be really upsetting. You might feel mad, embarrassed, scared, or ashamed at first. But youll probably feel better as time goes by having a good support system and getting counseling really helps. There are medicines you can take to help you stay healthy, and lots of ways to avoid giving HIV to anyone you have sex with. The reality is, people with HIV can be in relationships, have sex, and live normal lives by taking a few precautions.
Although theres no cure for HIV, there are medicines that help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. HIV treatment called antiretroviral therapy lowers the amount of virus in your body . This does two things:
Slows down the effects of HIV in your body, which keeps you healthy.
Lowers or even stops your chances of giving HIV to sexual partners.
Some people on ART have such a small amount of virus in their body, they cant transmit HIV to their sexual partners at all.
Even if youre feeling totally fine right now, see a doctor as soon as you can so you can talk about the best ways to stay healthy. The Centers for Disease Control and Preventions hotline can help you find a doctor near you who specializes in treating HIV: 1-800-CDC-INFO .
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Ongoing Stigma And Discrimination
Dr Neilsen says that Queenslanders who are HIV positive, like Nathan, can face ongoing stigma and discrimination, even if theyre taking medication that means they are not at risk of transmitting HIV to others.
Unfortunately, the stigma and discrimination still persist, he says. In recent years, I’ve still seen patients newly diagnosed with HIV experience awful discrimination. We still see rejection by family, rejection by their lovers and so on, at a time when that is really unjustified. It’s appalling. In that respect, HIV still has the potential to destroy relationships and cause major damage to people’s self-esteem.
Dr Neilsen finds this frustrating, particularly because modern treatments mean that people with HIV who are taking ART and have undetectable HIV viral loads in their blood results, are extremely unlikely to transmit the virus to others.
These days people are unlikely to get HIV from someone on HIV treatment, he says. The modes of transmission are well known, and people do not get HIV through normal social contact. If someone has a friend, family member or partner who is infected with HIV, they should be supportive and encourage them to seek treatment. People should be respecting and looking after each other as though they were not infected with HIV.
He thinks a lot of this discrimination comes from a lack of understanding in the community about what HIV actually is.