It can be very scary to learn that your HIV blood test came back positive, but it's not a death
sentence. The test means that you are infected with the virus that causes AIDS, the human
immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Even though there is no cure for HIV disease, there are many new
treatments that help keep the disease under control.
When you first find out that you have HIV, you'll need to adjust to this change in your life. Family
members or friends might be able to help you, or you could talk with a counselor or social worker.
Take your time and don't feel that you have to tell everyone right away about your HIV status. Then
start taking the next steps:
Learn more about HIV disease
Keep track of your immune system
Decide how you want to deal with HIV
Learn More About HIV
HIV is a virus that can multiply rapidly in your body. Without treatment, HIV can make your immune
system very weak. If this happens, you might get an "opportunistic infection." Common germs cause
these diseases. People with healthy immune systems can be exposed to these germs and
not get sick. The same germs can cause serious illnesses in people with weak immune systems.
The first medication for HIV was approved in 1987. Now there are many different drugs that can be
used to slow down the HIV virus. Most people with HIV disease can now expect to live healthy lives
for many years.
You will probably have a lot of questions about HIV disease. There are many good sources of
Your HIV case manager or health care provider;
Your local public health department;
Be careful about the information you're getting -- check it out with your health care provider or other
sources to make sure it's accurate.
Keep Track of Your Immune System
In addition to your regular medical exams, there are two special blood tests to keep track of HIV
disease. They are the viral load test and the CD4 cell test.
The viral load test helps show how strong the HIV virus is in your body. It measures the amount of
HIV in your blood. Lower levels are better. This test is used to help decide when it's time to start
using antiretroviral medications (ARVs), to see if the drugs are working, and to know when to
The CD4 cell test helps show how strong your immune system is. It counts how man infection-fighting
white blood cells you have. These cells are also called T-4, T-cell or T-helper cells. The more, the
better. If your CD4 cell count gets too low, you might develop an opportunistic infection. This test is
used to help decide when it's time to start using ARVs, or medicines to prevent opportunistic
Your health care provider will probably want to do these tests every three to six months. If your viral
load stays low and your CD4 cell count stays high, you might choose to delay treatment.
Decide How You Want to Deal With HIV
HIV may not be the only health issue you are dealing with. The better your health is overall, the
better you can deal with HIV. Be sure to get regular medical and dental checkups, and get treatment
for conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. If you can avoid smoking,
drinking too much alcohol, recreational drug use and sexually transmitted diseases, you will probably
find your HIV easier to control.
Using Drugs to Fight HIV
Although there are many different medications that can help slow down the HIV virus, we still don't
know exactly when or how best to use them. You will need to get information and work with your
health care provider to decide what kind of treatments fit best with your beliefs, desires and life
style. You might choose to be very aggressive, and use ARVs very early in your disease. You might be
more conservative and decide to wait until you reach specific viral load or CD4 cell levels. It's up to
Using Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Some people believe they have stayed healthier because they use traditional healing practices,
massage, acupuncture, herbs, or other therapies.
It is difficult to get information on how well these therapies work for HIV disease. Most of them are
not studied the same way as western medicines. That doesn't mean they don't work, but you may
have to find other ways to check them out. Remember, there are no "miracle" cures. If it sounds too
good to be true, be very careful.
You can get help from a case manager at a local AIDS service organization. Check with your local
health department. A case manager will give you confidential help to find out about and receiving
You can also check on the Internet for HIV/AIDS information and services.
The Bottom Line
There are things you can do to stay healthier with HIV disease. You can learn more about the
disease, monitor the health of your immune system, and decide how you want to deal with your
Remember, you are in charge of your own health care. You will decide which health care provider to
work with, and whom else you want to consult about your treatments. You will decide which
treatments you want to use and when you want to use them. Take your time and learn about your
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