You may have seen posters with inscriptions along the line: “Know Your HIV Status Now” in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Why is it so important for you to know your HIV status? You may ask. Another close concern that follows is knowing what is expected of life as an HIV positive person?
In this article, we highlight the necessary information you should know about HIV/AIDS as well as provide helpful insights on life after discovering one’s status as positive as well as the steps to take in protecting your loved ones from getting infected.
Finding out one’s status early enough is one way to help you decide the next steps to take to stay healthy and protect others from getting infected.
Testing positive for HIV/AIDS can be a life-changing event especially with the fact that once a person tests positive, they remain positive for life as there has not been yet a cure for the virus. So, there is no promise that life as an HIV positive person is going to be a ride in the park. It is perfectly normal for news like this to make one feel sad, angry, regretful, hopeless or even depressed. But what is not okay is to remain down because of it. Thanks to awareness and enlightenment, it is no longer perceived as a death sentence in this age and time.
The fact that HIV doesn’t have a cure doesn’t mean that it is the end of the world for you if you are diagnosed with it. This is because HIV can be managed using treatments. Many people with HIV still live a long and healthy life just like their counterparts who do not have HIV provided they stick to their treatment plan and doctors advice.
Once you are diagnosed with HIV, you should see a doctor to immediately commence treatment to prevent it from progressing to the life threatening condition called Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
How Is HIV Transmitted?
Contrary to popular beliefs, HIV is not only a sexually transmitted infection but it can also be transmitted when one comes in contact with infected blood, either through blood transfusion, sharing of needles, syringes, and piercing tools with an infected person. An infected mother can also transmit it to her child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.
NOTE: HIV is not transmitted through handshakes, hugs, or a kiss. It cannot be spread through insect bites, water or air.
After You Are Diagnosed With HIV, What Is The Next Step?
As soon as you are diagnosed with HIV, it is important to see a doctor immediately to kick-start your HIV treatment known as antiretroviral therapy (ART).
If you are diagnosed with HIV, not going for treatment or sticking to the treatment plan may cause the disease to advance to AIDS — badly damaged immune system. This may further increase your risk of developing opportunistic infections as well as making it harder for the body to fight diseases.
Sticking to the treatment plan as prescribed by your doctor will help you manage HIV effectively. It will help reduce the amount of viral load in your blood until it becomes so low that a test cannot detect it.
Getting and maintaining an undetectable viral load can help slow the disease’s progression and keep you healthy. It makes your partner not to be at risk of sexually contracting HIV from you. For an expectant mother, it can help to lower the risk of transferring the disease from mother to child to a great extent.
Monitor your health. Going for a blood test every few months will help you track your viral load. The viral load result will indicate if the HIV medications you are taking are working or not and how well your immune system is responding to treatment.
Adopt a health-conscious lifestyle as people diagnosed with HIV are at a higher risk of falling sick and developing conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, kidney problems and osteoporosis. To boost your immune system and promote general well-being, exercise regularly, stop smoking and eat heart-healthy foods. Also endeavour to add lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats to your diet.
Practice good food hygiene while preparing, storing, and eating foods. Do not eat raw or undercooked meat, eggs and seafood. Avoid drinking untreated water and unpasteurized dairy products.
How Can You Protect the People Around You?
Protecting your spouse or partner:
To protect your spouse or partner, it is very crucial to inform them of your status if you test positive. Even though this is not going to be easy, it will surely help you and your partner discuss additional protective measures to keep your partner safe.
Also, taking your medication and keeping an undetectable viral load can help you protect your partner from getting infected with HIV/AIDS.
In a case whereby you cannot get an undetectable viral load even after sticking to your doctor’s prescription, you can still use alternative methods to protect your spouse from getting HIV. This includes:
● Encouraging your partner to take Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP): When taken as prescribed, this medication is effective in preventing HIV in people at risk of contracting HIV from sex and injection.
● Using condoms: Condoms are also effective in preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
● If you worry that your partner may have been recently exposed to HIV, discuss the need to take post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) with him/her. PEP is a medication used in emergencies to prevent HIV after a possible exposure. For this medication to be very effective, you must start taking this medication as soon as possible. Ensure that you start taking it within 72 hours of exposure.
Protecting your unborn or new-born baby:
If you are diagnosed with HIV as a woman, you can still get pregnant and give birth to a healthy baby. It is important to take all the necessary measures to prevent passing the virus to the baby. Some of the precautions a mother needs to take to protect her baby include:
● Getting and sticking to the prescribed medications
● Making sure the doctor gives the new-born special medication to combat the virus
● Not breastfeeding the baby.
You can protect others by:
● Refraining from unprotected sex
● Not sharing needles, syringes, and piercing tools
It is normal for a person to feel overwhelmed when they are diagnosed with HIV. Although testing positive for HIV makes you more susceptible to other diseases, that does not mean you cannot live a healthy and long life, so long as it is diagnosed on time and you have access to good medical care. All you need to do is visit your doctor as soon as you can, stick to the treatment plan, keep all your appointments with your doctor, and adhere to all the advice on living a healthy lifestyle.
As we celebrate World AIDS DAY, know that you matter and an AIDS-free world begins with you protecting others.