If you’ve just found out that your partner has HIV, you probably have a lot of questions running through your mind. Am I infected or at risk of infection? Can we stay together and keep having sex? What about kissing or sharing food or a toothbrush? What do I need to do now to take care of myself? How can I help my partner?
It’s important for both of you that your partner gets the care that he or she needs now. You’ll need testing, care, and support to work through your concerns and protect your health, too.
How Do I Know If I Have HIV?
HIV is a virus that spreads through unprotected anal or vaginal sex. You can also get it if you share needles with an infected person. It’s possible but a lot less likely you’ll get it from oral sex or from things like kissing or sharing a toothbrush. You can’t get it from saliva, tears, or sweat. And you won’t get it if you share a toilet, food, or dishes with someone who is HIV positive.
If you and your partner are sexually active or you come into contact with bodily fluids, including blood, semen, or vaginal fluid, then you’re at risk of HIV infection. There’s only one way to know if you have HIV and that’s to get tested. Your HIV status is crucial for you to decide what you need to do next to protect yourself and others you care about.
When you get tested, make sure you let the clinic know that your partner has HIV. This will help your doctors choose the best HIV test to use. They can also connect you with an HIV counselor and other resources to help you.
If the Test Is Negative, Does That Mean I Don’t Have HIV?
Most HIV tests look for antibodies. In most people, those antibodies take at least 3 weeks to develop. Sometimes they take 12 weeks to appear.
If your test comes back negative, that’s good news. But it’s still possible you have the virus and it hasn’t yet shown up. You should take extra steps to protect yourself and others and have a doctor test you again in 3 months to make sure.
What If We Just Had Sex?
If you had unprotected sex or shared needles with your partner in the last 72 hours, tell your doctor. They may prescribe medicine for you to help prevent infection.
Doctors call this emergency treatment PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis). It doesn’t always work, so you should use condoms and take other steps to protect yourself and others while you take it.
Can I Stay With My Partner and Protect Myself From HIV?
Yes. Many people who are HIV positive are in long-term relationships with people who don’t have HIV. Your doctors and HIV counselors can help you work through the best ways to protect yourself.
The only surefire way to prevent HIV is to not have sex or share needles. But there are many ways you can lower your risk even when your partner has the virus. Here are some tips:
Choose less risky sex. Anal sex comes with the greatest risk for transmitting HIV. It’s a lot riskier when the HIV-negative partner is the one who receives.
Vaginal sex is safer than anal sex, but still comes with risks. It’s much less likely that you can pass on HIV through oral sex and even less likely with touching.
Use condoms. It’s important to use condoms the right way every time you have anal or vaginal sex. To help keep the condom from slipping or breaking, use a water-based or silicone lubricant.
Take medication. A doctor can prescribe an antiretroviral medicine to help protect you from getting HIV. They call it PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis).
For PrEP to work, you must take it every day. It can lessen the risk of spreading the virus through sex by 99%. It cuts the risk of getting it from sharing needles by 74%. Condoms are still a good idea in case you forget to take your medicine.
Make sure your partner takes his or her medicine. HIV treatment can keep your partner healthy. It also can lower or even do away with your risk for HIV infection. That’s because antiretroviral medicines can bring down virus in your partner’s bodily fluids to levels that can’t be measured (called an undetectable viral load.) If your partner is taking his or her medications and has an undetectable viral load, then the virus can’t infect you.
What If I Test Positive?
Despite lots of research, there’s still no cure for HIV. But treatments can help manage it. People with HIV are now living longer and healthier lives than ever before.
Your doctor will help you decide which antiretroviral medicines to take. You’ll need to take these medicines every day.
It’s also important that you tell anyone you’ve had sex or shared needles with besides your HIV-positive partner about your HIV status. They’ll need testing, too.