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Understanding AIDS/HIV -- Diagnosis & Treatment

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The Meaning of HIV Test Results

Testing can be stressful. However, early testing and identification are essential. Getting tested according to CDC guidelines assures that if someone is infected, treatment can be initiated that will make a difference in a patient's long-term outcome.

You may wish to talk with a doctor, counselor, or pastor prior to testing to discuss how you'll deal with the results. If you don't have someone to support you during testing, call your local HIV/AIDS community organization. They usually have volunteer counselors who have been through the testing experience and can talk with you. You don't have to go through it alone.

If your HIV test is positive, you need to create a plan for how you'll take care of yourself and protect others. HIV is not the "death sentence" it once was. Many people live long, happy lives with HIV. But ongoing medical care is essential to live successfully with HIV. If you don't have a doctor, your local public health department or HIV/AIDS organization can refer you to a local HIV clinic.

Anyone who tests positive for HIV has a responsibility to inform all past and current sex partners so they can be tested -- and get treatment if needed. This includes all sexual partners and people who have shared IV drug needles and equipment. Local health departments can assist with partner notification, often anonymously.

Other than these partners who may be directly affected by your HIV, revealing that you have HIV to other people in your life is a personal decision. You can decide whom and when to tell them. If you have children, you may want to include a counselor to help you tell them you have HIV/AIDS.

What Is the Treatment for HIV/AIDS?

The decision of when to start treatment for HIV/AIDS has changed over the years since the beginning of effective combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) in 1996. HIV treatment guidelines from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) now recommend antiretroviral treatment in all patients with HIV infection, regardless of CD4 -cell counts. The reasons for recommending treatment as soon as the diagnosis of HIV/AIDS is made is because:

  • More different types of drugs are available.
  • The newer drugs are more powerful.
  • The new drugs are less toxic.
  • Drug regimens are now simpler.
  • Untreated HIV infection leads to many other conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and liver and kidney disease.
  • Earlier treatment leads to better immune recovery.
  • Earlier treatment decreases the risk of sexual transmission. 

HIV is a smart virus that's constantly changing, a process called "mutating." The virus has discovered how to get around many of the medications once used to treat it. Treatment includes testing to determine what kind of HIV you have and what drugs your virus is resistant to. It isn't safe for people who have HIV to have unprotected sexual contact, because they may pass different strains of HIV to each other.

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