Not sure about starting HIV treatment?

Learning about your recent HIV positive diagnosis can be a lot to take in, so when your doctor asks you about starting treatment, your first instinct might be to hesitate.

Today, we know that starting treatment early keeps your immune system healthy and reduces your risk of developing other health conditions associated with HIV. However, you are likely to have heaps of questions and concerns about HIV treatment before you feel comfortable getting started and that’s fair enough!

HIV treatments come with side effects don’t they?

Treatments used today have very minimal side effects and are far less toxic than they used to be. If you are experiencing side effects, often they will be mild and usually occur at the beginning of starting treatment. Very often you will not experience any side effects at all. If you find yourself unable to use a particular type of treatment regime due to side effects, speak with you doctor. There are multiple options to choose from and your doctor can find the best option for you.

Won’t treatment cost me a lot?

Treatment is currently free for Australian residents who live in NSW and have a Medicare card. If you live in other states you can contact your local AIDS council or Positive organisations for local price options. If you don’t have access to Medicare, currently live in NSW and would like to talk to someone about accessing treatment, you can email HIVliving@acon.org.au  and a member of ACON’s HIV and sexual health team will be able to link you to resources that are available to you.

If I’m on treatment am I still at risk of transmitting HIV to my partners?

Today we know that starting HIV treatment early not only improves your long term health, but it also can lower the amount of the virus in your body to undetectable levels. Research from two international studies has proven HIV positive people with an undetectable viral load do not transmit HIV to their partners. There has never been a documented case of a person living with HIV who has a sustained undetectable viral load transmitting HIV to a sexual partner. Ever.

Being on treatment will remind me of my status

For some guys, starting treatment can seem intimidating, especially as commencing treatment is a life-long commitment. The act of taking your medication every day can be a reminder of your positive status and for some people can be a cause for anxiety. Talking about your recent diagnosis and any feelings or hesitations you might be experiencing when it comes to starting treatment with your doctor as stopping your medication can cause complications in your own treatment. If your doctor knows you might be struggling with adherence they can link you to other resources like a counsellor or peer support programs to assist you with these feelings. Ultimately starting on treatment means better health outcomes for yourself and it can reduce anxiety relating to transmitting HIV to your partners.

I’m worried about someone discovering my medication and finding out I’m HIV positive

If you are in a living situation where you are not ready to disclose your HIV status to your housemates or family, having pills around the house could also be a cause for concern. A common solution to this is to simply place your treatment pills into vitamin bottles and dispose of your original treatment medication bottles. The vitamin bottle should be cleaned after its previous contents are removed. When you put your treatment medication into the vitamin bottle it should be dry and able to be sealed closed.

Considering whether or not to disclose your HIV status to someone can be a complex thing, especially if a negative response could affect your living situation and general well being. If you wanted to weigh up what disclosure responses could look like, you could speak with a or someone at ACON’s HIV team.

I still have some questions, is there someone I can speak to?

Still have some questions about getting started on treatment? Or maybe you’d just like to speak to someone about living with HIV. ACON has a range of services that support people living with HIV, including a free and confidential counselling service and a one-on-one peer support program that links newly diagnosed guys with HIV positive peers. You can learn more about both these services here, or alternatively you can email HIVliving@acon.org.au with any questions you might have.