It can be very scary to learn that your HIV blood test came back positive, but it's not a death sentence. The test means that you are infected with the virus that causes AIDS, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Even though there is no cure for HIV disease, there are many new treatments that help keep the disease under control. Many people with HIV infection live a long and healthy life. No one can predict how long it may take to develop any symptoms of HIV disease.
When you first find out that you have HIV, you'll need to adjust to this change in your life. Family members or friends might be able to help you, or you could talk with a counselor or social worker. Take your time and don't feel that you have to tell everyone right away about your HIV status. Then start taking the next steps:
Learn more about HIV disease
Keep track of your immune system
Decide how you want to deal with HIV
HIV is a virus that can multiply rapidly in your body. Without treatment, HIV can make your immune system very weak. If this happens, you might get an "opportunistic infection." Common germs cause these diseases. People with healthy immune systems can be exposed to these germs and not get sick. The same germs can cause serious illnesses in people with weak immune systems.
The first medication for HIV was approved in 1987. Now there are many different drugs that can be used to slow down the HIV virus. Most people with HIV disease can now expect to live healthy lives for many years.
Keep Track of Your Immune System
In addition to your regular medical exams, there are two special blood tests to keep track of HIV disease. They are the viral load test and the CD4 cell test.
The viral load test helps show how strong the HIV virus is in your body. It measures the amount of HIV in your blood. Lower levels are better. This test is used to help decide when it's time to start using antiretroviral medications (ARVs), to see if the drugs are working, and to know when to change medications.
The CD4 cell test helps show how strong your immune system is. It counts how many infection-fighting white blood cells you have. These cells are also called T-4, T-cell or T-helper cells. The more, the better. If your CD4 cell count gets too low, you might develop an opportunistic infection. This test is used to help decide when it's time to start using ARVs, or medicines to prevent opportunistic infections.
Your health care provider will probably want to do these tests every three to six months. If your viral load stays low and your CD4 cell count stays high, you might choose to delay treatment.
Decide How You Want to Deal With HIV
HIV may not be the only health issue you are dealing with. The better your health is overall, the better you can deal with HIV. Be sure to get regular medical and dental checkups, and get treatment for conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. If you can avoid smoking, drinking too much alcohol, recreational drug use and sexually transmitted diseases, you will probably find your HIV easier to control.