When you test positive for HIV, the news will usually come from a doctor or a health professional. What is the next step and what should you do next?
1. Medical history and physical evaluation
You should give a complete medical history to the doctor. You should be honest about your past sexual practices and drug habits and undergo a thorough physical examination, including oral and eye examinations. Find out which doctors in your area specialise in the treatment of HIV.
2. T-cell count
A T-cell count is a measurement of special white blood cells that help the body fight infection. HIV attacks the T-cells. Your doctor will monitor the number of T-cells you have to assess how healthy your immune system is. The lower the number of T-cells, the more susceptible your body becomes to opportunistic infections.
3. Screening Tests
HIV-infected people should undergo tests for other medical conditions, such as syphilis or tuberculosis. A pap smear is recommended for HIV-infected women in order to rule out cervical abnormalities. It is important to stick to all prescribed medication.
4. Viral load
Viral load refers to the amount of HIV circulating in the blood. It is used to predict the speed of disease progression. The higher the viral load, the greater the likelihood of Aids developing.
5. Psychological counselling
The mental health needs of all people with HIV must be assessed as soon as possible, and treatment such as crisis management may be recommended. Both you and your loved ones may benefit from psychological or psychiatric support. Phone the Aids Helpline on 0800 0123 22 24 hours a day for support and advice.
- Tell people who will give you love and support, but you don’t have to tell everyone else, except people with whom you have had sexual contact.
- Look after your health. Get exercise, take vitamins, eat regularly and make sure you get enough rest.
- See a counsellor to help you come to terms with your HIV status.
- Find out if there is a support group of some sorts in your area. Sometimes sharing things with people in the same situation can be very meaningful.
- Get more than one opinion on medication. There are some widely differing views regarding HIV and Aids medication.
- (Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated November 2009)