Staying Healthy with HIV

When you are diagnosed with HIV it can be overwhelming, and often there might be other challenges at this time in your life. Accessing experienced support workers, medical care and social connection can help you get to a place where HIV is manageable and fits in with your life without feeling overwhelming.

Treating your HIV will be one of the most important things to consider. Today, HIV treatments are well tolerated with usually few or no side effects and treating your HIV early is associated with the best long-term health outcomes.

Working With Your Doctor

Following your diagnosis, you will be linked with a specialist doctor qualified in treating HIV, known as a S100 prescriber, who will put you on the best treatment for your individual health circumstances.

Finding a doctor who works well with you is crucial. They need to be someone you can trust as well as be open and honest with. It will likely be a long-term relationship and you will make some big decisions regarding your health together (primarily about treatment). If at a later stage you want or need to change your doctor you can, as there are many doctors who practice as GPs as well as S100 prescribers. In some rural areas of NSW, these doctors are only accessible at sexual health clinics.

Follow-Up Tests After a Diagnosis of HIV

Like any chronic health condition, the management of HIV requires ongoing medical care and support. Your doctor will run some tests after diagnosis as a starting point. These provide information about your health at the time you are diagnosed. The most common of these tests are CD4 and Viral Load monitoring which check the amount of HIV in your blood and your body’s response. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor about the tests being performed so you understand what they are and why they are being done.

Over time you will get used to the numbers and what they mean. Your ongoing check-ups will occur usually every three to six months, and in time they will just become routine.

Treatment for HIV

HIV medications or “Antiretrovirals (ARVs)” are commonly referred to as “treatment” and are the only effective way of controlling the virus in your body. Some people become anxious when considering treatment for many reasons such as being concerned about side effects. The reality is, most people will get few or no side effects and importantly, treatment will help you manage your HIV, prevent passing HIV onto your sexual partners and give you the opportunity to lead a healthy and long life.

Adhering to your treatment and taking your medication as prescribed will ensure the virus remains under control in your body. If you feel uneasy about taking your medication and would like additional support, see options here.

What are the benefits of Early HIV Treatment?

We now know that starting treatment as early as possible after a HIV diagnosis is one of the best ways to maintain good long-term health. Findings from a key study (START study) show that early treatment of HIV reduces the replication of virus in the body, improves quality of life and enables a near-normal life expectancy.

Start talking with your doctor about commencing treatment early to learn more about treatment benefits.

Once you start treatment you will be taking it for the rest of your life, which for many can be a tough pill to swallow. Speak with your doctor about ways to help manage and overcome concerns you may have.

Undetectable viral load

The goal of effective HIV treatment is to achieve what is known as an undetectable viral load (UVL). In simple terms, UVL means that HIV treatments are so effective at controlling the virus within your body that modern tests cannot detect significant virus in the blood. In other words, it is “undetectable” by these tests. Many guys living with HIV on successful treatment refer to their status as “undetectable”, meaning they have firm control over HIV and their health. Most people who initiate HIV treatment can reach an UVL within a relatively short period of time, while a few people struggle to get there. It is important to work closely with your doctor to figure out which treatment works best for you.

The great news for you is that a sustained undetectable viral load (for more than six months) means that you cannot pass on HIV to your sexual partners. Using UVL to stop the transmission of HIV is a prevention strategy known as Treatment as Prevention (TasP). In fact, there has never been a documented case of a person living with HIV with a sustained UVL passing on HIV to a sexual partner. TasP is a proven HIV prevention strategy and revolutionary stuff!

Learn more about UVL here.

How do alcohol and other drugs affect HIV treatment?

There are some things to consider if you consume alcohol and drugs.

  • Partying frequently or for long periods of time can make sticking to HIV treatment more complicated and may lead to you missing treatment doses. It’s important to plan ahead so that you continue to take your HIV treatment on time, even if you’re partying for a long time.
  • Some treatments make the effects of recreational drugs, like ecstasy and crystal meth, stronger than they would be normally. If you are going to use drugs, talk to your doctor or a healthcare professional first about their interactions. Taking smaller amounts first to gauge the strength and effects is advisable.

If you feel that your drinking or drug use is a problem visit our ‘Getting Support‘ page for support services and health promotion programs for people who use illicit (illegal) and licit (legal) drugs.

Sexual health

To maintain good health, it’s important to regularly screen for STIs. A sexual health check is easy to do. When you visit your doctor for your CD4 and Viral Load check-up, ask for a sexual health screening as well. For a complete sexual health check, you should have STI tests of your urine, throat, arse/rectum and blood. It is recommended that all sexually active gay men test for STIs four times per year. If you do get an STI and need to inform sexual partners, your doctor can assist you with contact tracing them anonymously.