If you have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), you need to take several medicines every day to help you stay healthy so you don't develop AIDS. You also need regular checkups to manage the disease and take the best possible care of yourself.
Many different medical professionals provide care, comfort, and treatment for people with HIV. They offer services that range from primary health care to information about the disease and about nutrition. This is known as an "interdisciplinary care team."
The specific providers you need will depend on your overall health and preferences. For help finding HIV/AIDS services, visit AIDS.gov.
Primary HIV Care Provider
This is your team leader, the person who plans your treatment and watches your progress. Your primary provider could be a medical doctor (MD, DO), a physician assistant (PA), or a nurse practitioner (NP). You choose which you want to work with.
It's best to find someone you're comfortable with because this person will be your main point of contact for a long time. She will prescribe the medicines you need, such as an antiretroviral medication to control the HIV virus to help you stay well for many years.
If your primary HIV care provider is not an expert in infectious diseases, she may refer you to one. If she is, you'll need a general doctor for other health issues and preventive care, such as heart health screenings and OB/GYN exams for women.
Infectious Disease Specialist
This doctor is trained to diagnose and manage infections like HIV. An infectious disease expert also can watch for other infections that are more likely to develop if you have HIV, including hepatitis C, tuberculosis, and certain types of pneumonia.
You might choose this specialist as your HIV care team leader, or your primary care doctor may refer you to him.
Nurses and Medical Assistants
These professionals are the backbone of your health care team. They help provide and coordinate care during your doctor visits and may take blood samples and do other tests.
Pharmacists work with your HIV team leaders to develop a medication treatment plan to help you feel better. This professional can answer your questions about drug safety and side effects. Many offer vaccines, including the flu shot, which people with HIV need every year.
Mental Health Provider
Your treatment involves caring for both your body and your mind. About 6 in 10 people with HIV have depression -- most of them women. Your HIV care team should include a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist who can offer emotional support and suggest ways to treat any mental health disorders.
Smart food choices are always important for good health. But that's especially true when your immune system is fighting off a serious infection like HIV. A nutritionist or dietician can help you create a meal plan that provides the nutrients you need.
HIV can cause sores and infections in your mouth, teeth, and gums. In fact, the first signs of an HIV infection are often in your mouth. Regular cleanings can help prevent tooth decay and the spread of bacteria that can lead to an infection in your bloodstream. That can be life threatening in people with HIV.
This professional isn't a doctor but someone who helps take care of any concerns you may have while you're living with HIV. She can offer support and teach you ways to handle issues. Social workers are sometimes called "patient navigators."
This person helps you find and coordinate many of the needs that often come with a complicated disease.
For example, your case manager may help you apply for insurance benefits or get housing, or find mental health or substance abuse services. Your case manager also will follow up to make sure you receive the service you need.
You don't have to have a case manager. But research shows that people with HIV who use one are more likely to visit their doctor at least once every 6 months. Staying in touch with your doctor is critical to staying healthy if you have HIV.
Other Team Members
Your HIV treatment team also may include members who provide:
- Spiritual care
- Substance use/abuse counseling
- Transportation assistance