If you've just found out you're HIV-positive, you may feel overwhelmed, fearful, and alone. Know that you are far from alone. Countless people and resources are available to help you and the more than 1 million HIV-positive people living in the U.S. today.
It may help to remember that being HIV-positive is not the virtual death sentence it once was. HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). But being HIV-positive does not necessarily mean that you already have AIDS. New treatment regimens have turned being HIV-positive into a chronic condition for many people. With a healthy lifestyle and the right medical care, many HIV-positive people are living long, productive lives.
Still, learning that you are HIV-positive may leave you reeling. Where should you turn for help? Who should you tell? What should you do first? Here are a few guideposts to help you through this difficult time.
See a HIV/AIDS Doctor Right Away
After finding out you have HIV, fear about the future may make it hard for you to take action. But once you know you're HIV-positive, see a doctor with experience in HIV and AIDS as soon as you can. Don't put it off. Your AIDS doctor will run tests to see how well your immune system is working, how fast the HIV is progressing, and how healthy your body is overall. With this and other information, your doctor can work with you to develop the best treatment plan, including when and how to begin treatment. HIV drugs can often slow or prevent the progression of HIV to AIDS. Left untreated, though, HIV can lead to serious illness and death.
Learn What It Means to Be HIV-Positive
Information is power, especially when that information can save your life. These steps will allow you to take an active role in your care.
- Read about HIV in other sections of this web site.
- Seek information from government or nonprofit educational organizations with a focus on HIV and AIDS.
- Learn about both experimental and standard HIV treatments, as well as their side effects.
- Talk with others who have been diagnosed as being HIV-positive.
Seek HIV-Positive Support Services
A wide range of people can help provide you with the emotional and physical support you may need to cope with your diagnosis of HIV. Seek the help you need -- whether it's getting a ride to doctor visits or simply finding a sympathetic ear. Here are some steps you can take right away:
- Ask your doctor about local HIV/AIDS support groups. Or, ask for a referral to a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or clinical social worker.
- Find message boards or chat rooms online. Discuss with your doctor the information you get from these sources. Some are accurate; some are not.
- Find a hotline by looking in the yellow pages of your telephone book under "AIDS, HIV Educational Referral and Support Services" or "Social Service Organizations." A person at the hotline can provide you with practical advice or emotional support over the phone. They can also refer you to local HIV/AIDS self-help organizations.
Protect Others From Becoming HIV-Positive
Because you're HIV-positive, you can give the virus to others, even if you don't feel sick. This can happen through unprotected sex or by sharing needles. You can protect others by using condoms and clean needles. By doing this, you can also protect yourself from other strains of HIV. Also, don't donate blood.
If you are a woman, you can spread HIV to your baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding. Ask your doctor what you can do to protect your child. Proper treatment has nearly wiped out the spread of infection to newborns in the U.S.