Myths, Qs & As
Dispelling some myths and providing facts
There’s no cure, but there’s great treatment. A person living with HIV or AIDS can now continue to live a full and healthy live, for as long as they would have otherwise.
HIV positive people go on to have great relationships, sex lives, and careers.
If best practice is used, it’s very unlikely for HIV to be transmitted from mother to baby.
However, it’s worth noting that as HIV can be transmitted through breast milk, HIV positive mothers shouldn’t breastfeed.
However, for many HIV positive people, their virus never develops into AIDS.
Even when a virus does develop into AIDS, with the correct treatment, it’s possible for AIDS to revert to simply being HIV positive.
That’s what condoms are for! If they’re practising safer sex, there’s no reason why a HIV positive person shouldn’t have just as active and full a sex life as anyone else.
Plus, when a HIV positive person is on medication for the virus, their risk of transmitting the virus is reduced significantly.
In fact, if they are on medication and the virus is undetectable the HIV person is considered un-infectious.
It’s also possible, that you could expose yourselves to different strains of HIV which could affect the medication you take.
So it’s important to use condoms to protect against this.
Questions & Answers
Finding out that you have HIV can be scary and overwhelming. If you feel overwhelmed, try to remember that you can get help and that these feelings will get better with time.
Testing positive for HIV is a serious matter but one that you can deal with.
Here is a list of things you will need to think about and access advice and information to help you understand your diagnosis:
- Find support
- Work with your doctor
- Monitor your health
- Be aware of possible complications
- Protect others
- Start treatment
- Move forward with your life
You will initially be offered a full blood test to determine the level of virus in your blood as well as the level of your immune system.
Your consultant will probably discuss medication with you so it is a good idea to read about the different options so that you can ask them any questions.
Viral load is the amount of HIV virus in your bloodstream.
A viral load test is a lab test that measures the number of HIV virus particles in a millilitre of your blood.
These particles are called “copies.” If there are less than 40 copies/ml, your viral load is classed as undetectable.
If your consultant tells you that your viral load is undetectable, it means that the level of HIV virus in your blood is so low that modern medical tests “cannot find” HIV.
It does not mean that the HIV has been cured as there is still no cure.
It means that the virus is not detectable & that the likelihood of passing the virus on is very low as long as you continue to take your medication as prescribed.
This is when an HIV-positive person undergoing antiretroviral therapy (ART) achieves undetectable viral load levels in their blood.
A detectable level HIV (viral load) makes it possible for HIV to be transmitted to someone else through blood, sexual fluids or from mother to baby during pregnancy, child birth or breastfeeding.
If you have been on treatment for at least 6 months and your viral load is undetectable then you are no longer infectious to others.
Early diagnosis of HIV infection provides timely access to treatment for HIV and co-infections, thus improving one’s health outcomes, including quality of life.
If you think you could have HIV you should get tested. The earlier you get tested, the better.
Certain groups of people are at particularly high risk and are advised to have regular tests. For example:
- men who have sex with men are advised to have an HIV test at least once a year, or every three months if they’re having unprotected sex with new or casual partners
- black African men and women are advised to have an HIV test, and a regular HIV and STI screen, if they’re having unprotected sex with new or casual partners
Other people at an increased risk of infection include those who share needles, syringes or other injecting equipment.
There are a number of things that you can do to access support:
- Contact Herts Aid Support Team who will provide information and support. The Support team will make contact and arrange for you to either attend the office closest to you or the team may attend your home to carry out a needs assessment. This is an opportunity for both you and the support team to get to know each other and discuss your needs. The support team will draw up a support plan and discuss prioritizing and addressing the needs identified.
- Access your local Sexual Health clinic – click here to find your local service.
- Get support online through myhiv.org
- Speak with your GP – If your GP is aware of your status, they can better advise you on medication interaction, be aware of co-infection risks and support you with any other issues you may have linked with HIV. All GPs are bound by confidentiality.
- Talk with others who have been diagnosed with HIV. Herts Aid have a range of ways you can do this. There is also the option of using online services. The main and largest one available is provided through THT, and is called myhiv.org
Herts Aid can provide support and guidance, and can signpost you to other more specialist older people services in Hertfordshire
All Hertfordshire sexual health clinics offer a free and confidential service to everyone regardless of age or gender.
Age UK are an organization working with older people.
Herts Aid Support Team are available to provide support to anyone affected by HIV and will make referrals to organizations who have specialized teams who support young people under the age of 18.
Please click on the link which will take you to the organisations
Body & Soul (CLICK)
Positively UK (CLICK)
You can contact the Support Team at Herts Aid and the team will direct you to the appropriate service.
You can also access information by clicking on the link.
Although there isn’t a cure for HIV, HIV treatment is so advanced that if you are on treatment and achieve an undetectable viral load you can expect a “normal” lifespan.
People diagnosed with HIV in the UK today can expect to have a normal life expectancy and live a healthy and active life.
Early diagnosis is particularly important as the longer HIV goes undiagnosed, the more damage it can do to the body.
f you are diagnosed with HIV, you will have regular blood tests to monitor the progress of the HIV infection before starting treatment.
This involves monitoring the amount of virus in your blood (viral blood test) and the effect HIV is having on your immune system.
This is determined by measuring your levels of CD4+ve lymphocyte cells in your blood. These cells are important for fighting infection.
Treatment is usually recommended to begin when your CD4 cell count falls towards 350 or below, whether or not you have any symptoms.
In some people with other medical conditions, treatment may be started at higher CD4 cell counts. When to start treatment should be discussed with your doctor. Currently you have to take medication for the rest of life.
Want to know more?
- namlife (aidsmap.com): Why monitor CD4 and viral load?
- namlife (aidsmap.com): When to start treatment?
If someone living with HIV decides to have a baby, there are options available and steps they can take to ensure HIV is not passed on to their partner during conception (if the partner is HIV negative) or to their child.
In the UK today there is less than a 1% chance of an HIV positive mother passing HIV on to her child if the right steps are taken.
We are all going to die, but today, the cause of your death may well not be anything related to HIV if you are on treatment with an undetectable viral load.
There can always be complications, just as there are with any chronic condition (like diabetes, for example), but generally, with current medications, people with HIV are living near-normal life spans.
You will be susceptible to the same medical conditions that affect all people as they age, and some experts say that people with HIV will experience some of these conditions associated with aging (like osteoporosis) sooner because of the lifesaving antiretroviral drugs you need to take.
- Unprotected intercourse with someone who is infected.
- Sharing unsterilised injecting equipment which has been previously used by someone who is infected.
- Injection or transfusion of contaminated blood or blood products, and donations of semen (artificial insemination), skin grafts and organ transplants taken from someone who is infected.
- From a mother who is infected to her baby (this may be during the course of pregnancy, at birth and through breastfeeding).
- In some countries HIV may be transmitted through infected blood products. In the UK all blood is screened to ensure this does not happen.
- You cannot get HIV through casual or day-to-day contact, or kissing, spitting or sharing a cup or plate. A small number of people living with HIV in the UK acquired it before or soon after birth (‘vertical’ or ‘mother-to-child’ transmission).
The risk of HIV transmission from performing oral sex is very low but it can still happen.
It is best to avoid giving oral sex if you have cuts or sores in your mouth or bleeding gums, as this increases the risk of HIV entering your body.
Condoms and Dental dams can be used during oral sex if you are worried about HIV transmission.
HIV can only be passed on through infected bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal fluids, blood, breast milk and rectal secretions.