Everything You Need to Know About an HIV-Positive Diagnosis

Being HIV-positive is no longer the death sentence it once used to be. With today’s treatment options, many people diagnosed with HIV are able to live long and active lives. However, being diagnosed HIV-positive does carry psychological, physiological, and social challenges. And although there is still a lot of stigma attached to the diagnosis, more and more people are becoming aware of how irrational the social injustice towards HIV-positive people truly is. In this article, we cover the most important information regarding the HIV-positive diagnosis.

What Does it Mean to be HIV Positive?

HIV-Positive Diagnosis

Being diagnose HIV-positive means a blood test has detected the HIV virus in your body that you may have contracted by having unprotected sex with an infected person, through needle sharing, blood transfusions, or other modes of transmission. There are several types of HIV screening tools such as ELISA Test, Western Blot test, and Viral Load Test. Being diagnosed HIV-positive does not mean that you have AIDS. AIDS, which stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is a wide range of conditions caused by the HIV virus. Because both terms refer to the same disease, people often get them confused. However, having and HIV positive diagnosis is different from having AIDS in the scope of the illness and a person’s outcomes.

Treatment for HIV

Once a person is diagnosed HIV positive, additional tests may be taken to see how much the virus has multiplied in the body and to check the person’s general health status. This will determine the what treatment should be given but most people now receive antiviral therapy. Antiretroviral therapy was introduced in the mid-nineties after which an HIV-positive diagnosis no longer considered to mean imminent death but rather a chronic disease. The treatment involves taking three pills daily to prevent the virus from multiplying and decreasing its count to undetectable levels. Although this therapy does significantly reduce the virus load in a person’s body, it does not eliminate the virus completely.

Additional Treatment

Additional Treatment

Lifestyle changes are an important part of HIV treatments. Because HIV-positive people have a compromised immune system, they should avoid making lifestyle choices that can aggravate their conditions such as smoking, excessive alcohol drinking, and sedentary living. One study even found that a fitness program improved the symptoms of HIV positive persons with metabolic syndrome. Having and HIV-positive diagnosis also means taking preventive measures to not spread the disease to other people by using condoms and avoid high-risk behaviors such as injecting drugs and sharing needles.

Social Implications

Because today’s treatments for HIV can decrease the viral load to undetectable levels, HIV-positive persons can live life to the fullest if taking their medicine regularly. This also means that they are much less likely to transmit the virus to other people such as their spouses or children. HIV-positive people can also start a family life without worrying about passing the virus to their unborn child. Antiviral therapy has reduced the mother-to-child transmission rates to as low as 2% according to an article published in Expert Review of Anti-Infective Therapy. HIV-positive people may also find it hard to deal with social stigma regarding the diagnosis, but with more and more awareness programs out there, people are starting to get a better understanding regarding HIV.

Statistics of HIV

A study published in PLOS One has collected the current data on HIV research and found that current antiviral therapy has increased the life expectancy of HIV-positive people to several decades. Most of the study’s subjects were men who have sex with men which are the highest risk group for being diagnosed HIV-positive in North America. Gender statistics on HIV-positive diagnoses varies across different contents. For instance, in sub-Saharan Africa, the majority of HIV infections occur in heterosexual persons and women are more often infected than men. Other modes of transmission are through injecting street drugs, working in the medical fields, blood transfusions, and other. Furthermore, according to the PLOS One study, most people diagnosed with HIV now in developed countries live into their 60s and 70s whereas before the introduction of antiviral therapy the life expectancy of HIV-positive people was 10 to 12 years.

Conclusion

Although being diagnosed HIV-positive can be scary, it doesn’t mean that your life is over. Antiviral therapy for HIV has significantly increased the life expectancy of HIV-positive people for up to several decades. Of course, how well a person will respond to the therapy depends on their general health status and adherence to the therapy. HIV-positive people can also participate in all aspects of social life including starting a family thanks to current treatment options. The stigma of HIV may make life more difficult for HIV-positive people. However, our understanding of the disease and how it is transmitted has helped lessen the stigma surrounding an HIV-positive diagnosis.

References:

  • https://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/hiv/diagnosis.html
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16307509
  • http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0081355

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