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just tested postive The Body: Rick Sowadsky M.S.P.H., C.D.S, Answers to Safe Sex Questions

Feb 3, 1997

Hi Rick, I just tested positive on one of the home HIV test. I have not seen a doctor yet because I am afraid, but I will soon. After finding out my results, I did a little research, and hear people say that HIV is now a chronic manageable disease. Is this true? and if so, what is the daily process of managing it. For example, is the only thing you have to do is keep a strict diet and take medications as presribed. Will I be able to live a active normal life without any side effects from the disease. Thank you for your help.

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question.

People are now living with HIV/AIDS better than ever before. But we haven't yet reached the point where we can call it a manageable disease, but we are heading in that direction. We have made great strides in slowing down the progression of the disease, but we still haven't reached the point where we can call it a manageable disease. The latest drugs (including the protease inhibitors) do offer great hope in helping people with the disease. However, because these drugs are so new, we only know the short-term benefits of these drugs. We don't yet know the long-term benefits. When we see people on TV taking these new combination treatments, we often see the good side of therapy, but not the bad side. What is often hidden by the media is the significant side effects of these drugs. Also, if these drugs are not taken EXACTLY as prescribed, HIV can develop resistance to the drugs very quickly. The media often hides the fact that a person with HIV/AIDS can be on numerous drugs every day. Some need to be taken on an empty stomach....other drugs have to be taken with food....some need to be taken three times a day....others twice a day. Some have to be refrigerated, others not. In other words, a person spends their entire day planning around what medications they need to take and when. This, added to the side effects of these drugs, make living with HIV/AIDS not an easy task. We must also remember that not all people can take these new medications. They also do not work for all people. Many people cannot financially afford these extremely expensive new drugs. Living with AIDS is much more than just popping a few pills everyday and eating a good diet.

In other words, there's two sides to living with AIDS. There's the great advances we've made in slowing down the progression of the disease. There's now a choice of drugs available, when just a few years ago, there was just one or two. However, we must not forget that these new treatments are not "wonder drugs" and they don't take the disease away. I'm trying to convey to you that there's two sides to living with AIDS. There's the side the media portrays (take these drugs and the symptoms of AIDS just go away!), and then there's the realistic side (these treatments offer great hope, but they're not without their downside). I am cautiously optimistic as far as the direction we are going in making this a manageable disease. We're not there yet, but at least we're on the way.

My suggestions to you are the following:

If you were home tested through Home Access Express or Confide, then your tests should be accurate. If you were tested through any other company--BEWARE. I have now found on the Internet, home testing companies using unapproved testing kits. If you were tested through a home testing company other than Home Access Express or Confide, get tested again. You may not be positive, and your test may not be accurate. But if you were tested through these two companies, that should be an accurate test.

See a physician for a complete physical. Get a CD4 cell count and a viral load test to see where you stand clinically. You may or may not need treatment at this time.

Go to a local support group to see how others are LIVING with this disease. Support groups can be found in your local community, or online through several online services, such as America Online.

Learn as much as you can about AIDS, but learn at your own pace. It takes time to learn about this disease.

Keep in mind that treatments that other people take, may not work for you. Everybody is different. Medications that may work for other people may not work for you. Likewise, medications that may not work for other people, may be very helpful for you. We treat each person individually.

Take control of your disease. Have an optimistic, but realistic mental attitude. People who have a positive attitude towards life (and towards LIVING with AIDS) have been found to clinically do better. This is because persons LIVING with a positive attitude tend to take better care of themselves, and take control of their own lives.

Find a physician who is knowledgeable in AIDS and who you can work with. Remember, you are 50% of your healthcare team. It is you and your physician TOGETHER who make your treatment decisions.

Take good care of yourself. This means eating a good diet, exercising regularly, reducing stress etc. These are things everyone should be doing anyway, but for you, the importance of taking care of yourself is more important than ever. Taking care of yourself also includes avoiding re-exposure to HIV, and avoiding infection with other infectious diseases, including Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's). You can't avoid every infectious disease out there, but you can reduce your exposure to some of them (like foodborne diseases etc.).

Plan financially for AIDS. This is an extremely expensive disease, and you may not be able to afford all the treatments and services out there. Because of financial cut-backs, finding all the services you need, may not always be available. In other words, plan ahead for LIVING with this disease.

Finally, be optimistic, but realistic. You can LIVE with this disease, but expect symptoms due to the disease, drug side effects, stress, etc. etc. These all come with LIVING with AIDS. LIVING with this disease is not easy, but it is possible. Living with AIDS is much more than popping a few pills and eating a good diet. AIDS is not yet a manageable disease, but at least we are heading in that direction.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).

six months-too late?The Body: Rick Sowadsky M.S.P.H., C.D.S, Answers to Safe Sex Questions

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