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Telling Others You’re HIV-Positive

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How Do I Tell People I'm HIV-positive?

There is no one way to tell others you have HIV. It's often better to do this in person and one-on-one but people have also told others in groups, by phone, or with letters. There are even public health Web sites, such as www.inSPOTLA.org, that allow people to send e-cards to people with whom they've had casual sex. If you are meeting with someone to have this conversation, choose a place that is private and feels comfortable to you, and allow plenty of time to talk.

Here are things to consider when telling the different kinds of people in your life.

Friends and family members. In a perfect world, these would be the easiest people to tell. In reality, they are sometimes the ones most hurt, most fearful, or most angry. And, it often feels as though there's more at stake if things don't go well. However, keeping a secret from those you love can be painful. Be prepared for many different types of reactions.

Children. When is the right time to tell your children? Consider their ages and personalities and whether or not they've had experiences with illness. It might be a good idea to get professional advice first. Be prepared for many questions:

    • Why did this happen?
    • Am I sick, too? Will I become sick?
    • Will you get better?
    • Who would I live with if you die?

Sex or needle-sharing partner. This is the person who may have infected you -- get your anger out of the way before you talk. Express how you feel, but stay calm. If you find it too difficult to tell this person yourself or you fear a reaction, you can enlist the help of your local public health department. Their staff can tell your past partners without giving your name. At the same time, they can offer counseling and testing.

Future sex partners. When it comes to relationships, timing is everything. The same could be said about the timing of telling someone you're HIV-positive. You won't want to be defined by it, but you will need to make sure you tell people you're dating before you have sex with them. And choosing a neutral location is better than waiting until you're naked and in bed.

Employer. You are not required to tell your employer you have HIV. But you'll have to if you need changes in your schedule or workload to accommodate your illness. Get a letter from your doctor first. You may also need to reveal that you're HIV positive on an application for Family and Medical Leave. Confirm with your employer that you want this kept confidential, which the law requires.

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