So, you just learned that you may have HIV? All is not lost or over.
The news can be unsettling to say the least; however, the best course of action is to seek treatment quickly.
Early diagnosis and adherence to treatment can reduce your risks for related conditions and preserve your quality of life. It is important to remember that, unlike 30 years ago, HIV is mostly a manageable disease today that can be treated with HIV medicines. Current HIV medicines cannot cure HIV, but they have a proven track record of helping people with HIV live longer, healthier lives.
Your first step is to make an appointment with a provider. At MAO, during every new patient intake, the social services team will explore assistance programs with you that expand your options for addressing treatment costs.
Modern medicine recommends people with HIV start taking HIV medicines as soon as possible. Deciding when to start taking HIV medicines and specifically what medicines to take begins with a baseline HIV evaluation completed with a licensed provider. A HIV baseline evaluation includes a review of your health, medical and sexual history, a physical exam, and lab tests. All personal information is held in the strictest confidence.
Don’t allow language to confuse you!
The use of HIV medicines to treat HIV infection is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART involves taking a combination of HIV medicines (called an HIV regimen) every day. Again, ART is not a cure for HIV; however, it is critical to helping people with HIV live longer, healthier lives and strict adherence reduces the risks for HIV transmission to someone else.
Why does treatment begin with a HIV baseline evaluation?
Most information needed to start effective treatment comes from knowing as much about you and how you live your life as possible. Rest assured the evaluation is not about judgement. Experienced providers recognize that every life comes with a list of unique factors and circumstances.
During a HIV baseline evaluation, your provider will determine how far your HIV infection has progressed. A major goal in your treatment with HIV medicines will be to prevent your HIV from advancing to AIDS. AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection.
The information also allows your provider to offer informed consultation as to whether you are ready to start lifelong treatment with HIV medicines. During an HIV baseline evaluation, the health care provider explains the benefits and risks of HIV treatment and discusses ways to reduce the risk of passing HIV to others. This is an experience customized to you as an individual and you will be encouraged to candidly ask questions and explore answers.
Not sure what to ask?
If you’ve recently received your HIV test results, you may have some of the following questions:
- 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 spouse/ partner/ family/friends 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?
- What lab tests are included in an HIV baseline evaluation? (See below.)
You may find it helpful to write down questions before your appointment. It is not uncommon to bring a family member or friend with you. They may think of questions you do not.
The following lab tests are included in a HIV baseline evaluation.
A CD4 count measures the number of CD4 cells in a sample of blood. CD4 cells are infection-fighting cells of the immune system. HIV destroys CD4 cells, which, in turn, damages the immune system. A damaged immune system makes it hard for the body to fight off infections. Treatment with HIV medicines prevents HIV from destroying CD4 cells. The higher a person’s CD4 count the better. A low CD4 count increases the urgency to begin medication. Conversely, through routine lab work, your CD4 count is also used to monitor the effectiveness of medicines once started.
A viral load test measures how much virus is in the blood (HIV viral load). A goal of HIV treatment is to keep a person’s viral load so low that the virus can’t be detected by a viral load test.
Drug-resistance testing identifies which, if any, HIV medicines will not be effective against a person’s strain of HIV.
Testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Coinfection with another STI can cause HIV infection to advance faster and increase the risk of HIV transmission to a sexual partner. Treating any other STIs that you may have will be critical to your overall health. For example, did you know that individuals with HIV and Hepatitis C (also commonly referred to as Hep C and HCV) have a higher risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes?
A HIV baseline evaluation also includes other equally important tests including those for blood cell count, kidney and liver function, blood glucose and blood fat level, and hepatitis. Specific tests ordered will be at the discretion of your provider.
Additional information is available from your MAO team members as well as from HIV.gov. Information can literally save your life.