HIV and AIDS
How Is AIDS Diagnosed?
If a person with HIV infection has a CD4 count that drops below 200 -- or if certain infections appear (AIDS-defining illnesses) -- that person is considered to have AIDS.
How Is HIV Treated?
We've come a long way from the days when diagnosis with HIV equaled a death sentence. Today, there are a variety of treatments that, when used in combination can significantly slow down and in some cases stop altogether, the progression of HIV infection.
After HIV infection is confirmed, your doctor will start you on a drug regimen consisting of several drugs; combinations of different types of anti-HIV drugs sometimes are called HAART, for highly-active antiretroviral therapy (HIV is a kind of virus called a retrovirus).
Taking HAART therapy is very manageable yet isn’t necessarily easy. These drugs must be taken at the right time, every single day. Also, a range of side effects may occur, including: diarrhea, nausea, rash, vivid dreams, or abnormal distribution of body fat. And, especially if medications are taken incorrectly or inconsistently, the virus can mutate, or change, into a strain resistant to treatment. The good news is that there are now several HIV medications that are only taken once a day. If there is resistant virus, however, these may not work and other medication options must be used.
If your disease has progressed to AIDS, your treatment may also include drugs to combat and prevent certain infections.
How Do I Know If the HIV Treatments Are Working?
Your doctor can monitor how well your HIV treatment is working by measuring the amount of HIV in your blood (also called the viral load.) The goal of treatment is to get the viral load undetectable on labs tests; ideally less than 20 copies. This does not mean the virus is gone or cured, it means the medication is working and must be continued.
How Can I Protect Myself From Getting HIV?
The best way to protect yourself from HIV is to avoid activities that put you at risk. There's no way to tell by looking at someone if he or she has HIV. Always protect yourself.
- Use latex condoms (rubbers) whenever you have any type of sex (vaginal, anal, or oral).
- Don't use condoms made from animal products.
- Use water-based lubricants. Oil-based lubricants can weaken condoms.
- Never share needles to take drugs.
- Avoid getting drunk or high. People who are drunk or high may be less likely to protect themselves.
How Can I Prevent HIV From Progressing to AIDS?
You can help prolong your life by taking good care of yourself and developing a good relationship with an experienced doctor specializing in HIV and AIDS. Also, be consistent about taking your HIV medications as prescribed and getting regular lab work to catch any problems early.