Updated: July, 2015
When it comes to treatments, what’s life like for gay guys with HIV in Australia?
There are thousands of gay guys living with HIV in NSW who lead lives just like guys who are HIV negative. But here’s the thing: you need to be on treatment, and ideally, you need to be on it earlier rather than later for optimum, long-term health.
Australia’s high quality HIV services and health system more broadly, mean people with HIV are very well supported in terms of treatment and care.
Of course, this is not the case for everyone with HIV and clearly if you can avoid contracting a lifelong chronic disease, with all the uncertainties and difficulties that it can bring, then you should.
FIVE FACTS ABOUT HIV TREATMENT
Effective HIV combination therapy prevents the virus from multiplying in the body and allows people with HIV to lead longer, healthier lives. Most people on treatment can achieve optimal suppression to the point where the amount of virus is too low to be detected by standard measurement (undetectable viral load).
Fact: Treatments – and side effects – have changed.
In the very early days of HIV treatment, there were lots of pills to take and treatment often caused quite severe and debilitating side effects.
New and improved treatments are far less toxic, have a much lower risk of side effects and are much more effective at controlling HIV.
Fact: Treatments are far easier to take than they used to be.
In fact, most people are now taking only a few tablets once or twice a day. Some people even take only one tablet once a day.
Fact: An undetectable viral load doesn’t mean you no longer have HIV.
Rather, it means HIV has been reduced to very low levels that can only be detected by specialised laboratory blood tests. Research from the PARTNER study has shown that those with an undetectable viral load have, at most, a 4% chance of transmitting HIV during anal sex, meaning you’re much less likely to pass HIV on to sexual partners.
Fact: Treatments don’t cause premature ageing.
If anything, treatments help you ward off the associated health conditions HIV positive gay men can develop, because they keep you and your immune system healthier. In fact, certain health conditions are likely to crop up for HIV positive gay men only one to six years earlier than in an HIV negative gay guy. For more info, click here.
Fact: The best time to treat is now.
Recent research has shown that early, if not immediate, treatment increases life expectancy, improves health and prevents serious illness by more than 50% compared to those who delay starting treatment.
Treatments and adherence
Many people with HIV report being surprised at how easy today’s treatments are to take. Maximising the effectiveness of the treatment you’re taking comes down to what’s known as ‘adherence’ – taking your treatment strictly as prescribed.
It’s important not to miss too many doses as HIV can become resistant to treatment. If you do, your viral load can rise from undetectable levels and you may need to change your treatment combination to more complicated ones to bring it back down again.
Your doctor will help you decide on a treatment combination that’ll best suit your lifestyle, and offer information and strategies to help you adhere to your medication. Information and support can make adherence easy and before you know it taking your treatment will become second nature – much like brushing your teeth.