Your Partner Was Diagnosed With HIV: What You Need to Do
Your partner was just diagnosed with HIV. You may be scared, worried, or confused. What does this mean for your health, sex life, and relationship? Answering these questions can help protect your health and ease your mind.
Should You Get Tested, Too?
Yes. If your partner has HIV, you need to get tested right away. This is important, because sex with your partner can expose you to HIV. Getting tested can tell you if you’re infected.
- If your HIV test results are positive: You can start treatment right away to lower your viral load. It’s called ART, or antiretroviral therapy. Drug combinations lower the amount of HIV in your blood to the point where the virus doesn’t show up on tests. Doctors will call this undetectable. This treatment helps you stay healthy so you can live a normal, long life.
- Could PrEP be right for you? Even if your HIV test is negative, your partner’s HIV infection puts you at risk for getting the virus, too. You can take PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, to protect you during sex. PrEP medicines can cut your risk of getting HIV, even if you’re exposed. They help your body block the virus so it can’t infect you.
- If your test results are negative: You may have some peace of mind. But you can also take steps to protect yourself during sex until your partner’s treatment starts to take effect. That’s usually 6 months, assuming your partner starts taking medication for their HIV. During this time, use condoms during intercourse or dental dams during oral sex as precautions. PrEP can also help keep you from getting HIV.
Should You Retest if the First Test Was Negative?
Yes. HIV doesn’t always show up right away on some tests. The gap between infection and when the virus shows up is called a window period. Even if you’ve been infected, your results can be negative during that time.
Take a follow-up test to be sure that you aren’t HIV-positive. The amount of time you need to wait to retest (after your last exposure) depends on the type of HIV test you use:
- Fourth-generation HIV tests: These newer tests can detect HIV 4 or more weeks after exposure to the virus.
- Third-generation tests, rapid tests, and HIV self-test kits: These can detect HIV within 3 or more months of exposure.
Your doctor can go over the window period to get an accurate result from the type of test you take. They can advise you on how long to wait to get tested again so you’re sure you aren’t infected.
Lifestyle Changes for You and Your Partner
You can both take steps to stay healthy and boost your immune systems, even if only one of you has HIV. With a healthy diet and lifestyle, the body may absorb HIV medications better. Also, they may work better and cause fewer side effects.
Eat a healthy diet. HIV infection and the medicines your partner takes can cause an upset stomach or make it harder for the body to absorb nutrients from food. It’s important to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Good nutrition will help both your immune systems stay strong.
Whether you have HIV or not, follow these healthy eating tips:
- Get a varied diet of fresh foods like fruits, veggies, dairy products, proteins, and grains.
- Eat foods lower in saturated fats, sugars, and sodium.
- Watch out for foodborne infections. People with HIV are more likely to get these bugs. Cook food to a safe temperature before you eat it. Store fresh foods in the fridge so they don’t spoil. Keep raw meat, seafood, and poultry away from lettuce or fruit. Wash your hands and countertops after you prepare meals.
Get regular exercise. Physical activity keeps your immune system strong so you can fight off infections. Exercise keeps your body and mind healthy and strong. Find activities that both you and your partner enjoy so you can work out together and stick to a routine.
Don’t smoke. Smoking raises your risk of several types of cancer and other serious conditions, like heart disease, whether you have HIV or not. If your partner with HIV smokes, quitting can help improve quality of life and reduce any HIV symptoms.
People with HIV who smoke tobacco have a higher risk of lung, head and neck, cervical, and other cancers. They’re also more likely to have serious diseases like heart disease, stroke, COPD, or pneumonia. Smoking can also increase the risk of illnesses that lead to AIDS.
Enjoy a healthy, safe sex life. Just because your partner has been diagnosed with HIV doesn’t mean you should stop enjoying sex. A satisfying sex life is important to a relationship and can also ease your and your partner’s stress.
Use safe sex practices to cut the chances of infection during sex. Condoms will prevent HIV as well as other sexually transmitted diseases. Take PrEP medications to reduce your chances of getting HIV. Avoid lubricants that contain either polyquaternium or polyquaternium-15, ingredients that raise the risk of HIV transmission.
Support Your Partner’s Treatment Journey
To be there for your partner during their HIV treatment:
- Have open conversations about the diagnosis and how it affects their self-esteem. Reassure your partner that ART can help them manage HIV viral load and stay healthy. Listen to their concerns, and be understanding.
- Learn as much as you can about HIV, including ART and how to have a healthy lifestyle.
- Help your partner take their HIV medications on schedule so they work as well as possible. Work together to create a routine or reminders to take the drugs each day.
- If either of you feels stressed, overwhelmed, or depressed, get mental health treatment or join a support group. Talking with others may help both of you ease your worries.