What to Do After Testing HIV Positive
If you just learned you are HIV positive, it’s natural to feel scared, confused and unsure what to do next. But knowing that you’re positive also gives you power that not knowing doesn’t: the power to seek treatment, to handle the health issues you can control and to protect the people you love.
After testing HIV positive, you’ll definitely have some changes in your life, habits and relationships. Here are the most important steps on your way to living well with HIV:
AHF has offered quality services for people with HIV since 1987. Find out more about becoming an AHF patient.
Choose a doctor with experience treating HIV. Your physician should be someone you can talk to openly. The two of you will be working closely together to maintain your quality of life and devise the best healthcare plan possible. Think about what’s important to you in a doctor, and then do some research. You can also ask for referrals from others with HIV.
Keep your body strong by eating right, exercising and getting enough rest. As much as possible, avoid alcohol, smoking and recreational drugs, and if you’re on meds, remember to take them.
After receiving your diagnosis, you may feel depressed or want to isolate yourself from family and friends. Try to maintain your connections, and talk to your doctor if you can’t eat, sleep or concentrate. You’ll feel better with a strong support system in place.
The more you know about HIV and the drugs that are used to control it, the better you’ll be able to make decisions about your treatment. Your doctor and HIV/AIDS organizations can be great sources of information. Learn more about HIV Treatments
HIV/AIDS groups can give you legal tips as well as treatment information. They’re your first line of defense if you face discrimination – illegal in many countries – and can help you draw up documents to ensure you get the kind of healthcare you want.
It’s hard to know who to tell that you’re positive. Telling your loved ones can be a relief and give you support, but not everyone responds well to this news. Let your instincts help you decide who to trust with this information, and when.
Regardless of who else you choose to share your status with, you should tell:
- anyone you’ve had sex or shared needles with
- anyone you plan to have sex with
- your doctor and dentist
By telling your sex partners, past and present, you help protect them. By telling your doctor and dentist, you help them give you the right kind of care. Depending on what country you live in, you may be able to inform past partners anonymously at inspot.org.
What to Do if Your Partner Is HIV Positive
If your partner is HIV positive, there are a few basic safety precautions you need to take. Most important is to practice safer sex. Even if both of you are positive, you could expose each other to different strains of the virus and make medication less effective. You should use barriers with sex toys and separate works if you inject drugs. Keep your own individual razors and toothbrushes, and don’t share them.
To clean up blood or other bodily fluid:
- Use chlorine bleach diluted in water – 1/4 cup to every gallon.
- Wear disposable gloves.
- Wash your hands with soap and water afterwards.
If you’re part of a mixed-status couple – meaning one of you is positive and the other’s negative – there are also resources designed specifically for you. Check out the SMART Couples Project, or look for support groups near you.
Become an AHF Patient
At AHF, we’ve delivered quality services for people with HIV since 1987. Our staff are specialists with up-to-the-minute knowledge about HIV treatment, and our organization – the largest provider of HIV healthcare in the U.S. – offers a comprehensive array of services.
AHF Linkage to Care US
Los Angeles: 213-304-8151
Oakland/San Francisco: 510-457-8405
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Broward/Miami Dade: 954-496-9323
Fort Myers: 239-478-3056
Prince Georges County: 202-578-2330
We also partner with organizations around the world to provide HIV programs and treatment. If in the US, this is the contact information:
Toll-Free: (888) AIDS-CARE (first time callers)
New Client Referrals: (800) AHF-2101
California Nurse Care Line*: (800) 797-1717
Florida 24-hour Client Care: (800) 832-0778
Emergencies: Call 911
Client Services**: (800) 263-0067
*Hours: M-F, 5:30pm-8:30am and Sa-Su/Holidays, 24hrs a day
**Service issues/file a complaint
For a complete listing of all AHF Healthcare Centers, please visit www.hivcare.org.
If you’re outside the U.S., visit our Medical Services section to search for a location near you.
Our healthcare centers provide access to a variety of specialists in HIV care. We work together to provide the best treatment available, and the proof of our success is in the response we receive: 96% of our clients said they’d recommend AHF Healthcare Centers to a friend.
Who Is Eligible?
Everyone is welcome at our centers, regardless of ability to pay.
We accept most major insurance plans, including all PPO plans, Medi-Cal, Medicare and all Medicare Part D plans. If you have an HMO, you’ll need to get prior authorization from your primary provider, unless you wish to pay for your services in full.
How to Get Started
The easiest way to become a client is by calling 888.AIDS.CARE (888.243.7227) to set up an appointment.
For your first visit, you’ll need to arrive half an hour early to fill out some forms. We’ll do a financial screening, determine which benefits you may qualify for and give you an orientation and tour of the center.
Please bring the following, if you have them:
- Your insurance card or other statement of coverage
- Proof of residency (utility bill, lease or rental agreement)
- Proof of income (pay stub, award letter or records of unemployment or disability payments)
- Your original HIV diagnosis document, blood test results or HIV medication bottles
Not sure if there’s a center near you? Check hivcare.org/clinics.
Positive Healthcare offers insurance programs connecting people with HIV to expert, personalized care. As a Positive Healthcare member, you’ll receive all of the standard Medi-Cal/Medicare benefits, plus additional wellness resources and assistance free of charge.
Who Is Eligible?
If you’re eligible for Medicare or Medi-Cal, you’re eligible for Positive Healthcare. There are currently programs in Florida and California.
How to Get Started
AHF pharmacists specialize in anti-HIV medications and offer complete analysis to make sure your treatment is working correctly, without causing a potential drug interaction. We provide direct billing to most insurance plans, a refill-by-phone service, free adherence tools, and free, discreet home delivery.
By filling your prescriptions with us, you help support our treatment, prevention and testing programs worldwide.
Who Is Eligible?
AHF Pharmacy is open to everyone. We accept Medicaid, Medi-Cal, Medicare and most major insurance plans. Our California pharmacies participate in the AIDS Drug Assistance Program.
How to Get Started
Visit ahfpharmacy.org to learn more.
For over a decade, AHF Research has been dedicated to discovering better treatments and improving quality of life for people living with HIV. We do clinical trials testing new antiretrovirals, studying different drug combinations and examining the feasibility of using fewer pills in HIV treatment.
Who Is Eligible?
While each trial has different requirements for involvement, with a wide range available, there’s a good chance that one of them fits you. We have studies for people who’ve yet to start drug therapy, for those whose medications are failing and for people with HIV-related illnesses. You do not have to be an AHF Healthcare Center client to participate.
Women and people from underrepresented ethnic groups are particularly encouraged to consider becoming part of a trial.
How to Get Started
If you would like to learn more or participate, please call (323) 913-1033.
Today, HIV treatments are more tolerable and more effective than in decades past. While in the early 90s there was only one drug – AZT – for people with HIV, now there are over 20 different HIV medications, prescribed in a variety of combinations, as well as effective treatments for the conditions commonly associated with HIV.
These treatments are not cures for HIV infection, but they have helped countless positive people live long and healthy lives.
HIV is a retrovirus, and anti-HIV drugs are called antiretrovirals (ARVs). Antiretroviral therapy (ART) works to get the number of copies of HIV in the body – the viral load – so low that HIV can’t be detected in a standard laboratory test.
There are several different classes of antiretroviral drugs, with multiple medications in each class. These classes include:
- nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs)
- non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs)
- protease inhibitors
- integrase inhibitors
- CCR5 antagonists
- fusion inhibitors
Each class interferes with HIV’s replication within the body in a different way.
ART consists of at least two and preferably three drugs from multiple classes of ARVs.
If antiretroviral medications are not taken correctly and consistently, HIV may mutate, changing so that a particular drug or drugs are no longer active against the virus. When drug resistance occurs, healthcare providers do a test to determine which component of the regimen isn’t working, and then construct a new, effective treatment.
In making the decision about when to start ART, you and your doctor will consider your health, feelings about medication and the risk of the disease progressing.
Your doctor will use established treatment initiation guidelines to decide whether to recommend therapy. Generally, your immune function and the presence of conditions like viral hepatitis and HIV-related kidney disease will be considered.
CD4 cell count is a key marker of immune function. The number of CD4 cells in the body directly correlates to the risk of getting sick from a collapsing immune system, and medication may be advised if that number is low. Even with a high number of CD4 cells, however, symptoms may indicate that ART is a good idea.
Deciding when to start therapy isn’t just about CD4 cell count and HIV-related illness, though. ART requires a commitment to taking medication daily – as instructed, and for life. People who don’t adhere to their drug regimens risk building up resistance without suppressing the virus, so it’s important to assess ability to stay on medication when thinking about starting ART.
Antiretrovirals all have potential side effects, although not every effect will be felt by everyone on a given drug. While many of these dissipate as the body adjusts to medication, some require further treatment to manage, or a doctor’s adjustment to the regimen.
Anti-HIV drugs also can interact with each other or with other medications – either by making them less effective (as is the case with some birth control pills), or by harming the body. It’s important to be informed about potential interactions before embarking on any drug plan.
For information on specific medications, download our Drugs and Drug Therapies Fact Sheets (pdf).