Even if you don't yet need treatment, it's essential that you find a medical professional who is experienced in treating people with HIV. Regular checkups with an HIV health care provider are extremely important, even when you don't feel sick.
You'll need to find a health care provider (this could be a physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant) with special training in HIV who has treated 20 or more people with HIV, in the past two years. You'll want someone who stays on top of the newest information about HIV medications, tests and other issues.
However, it's just as important to choose someone you like, someone you feel you can trust and be open with. This means you'll need to find someone you can be honest with about sensitive issues -- everything from sex, drugs and alcohol use to missing doses of HIV meds. Communication between you and your health care provider is critical, so if you struggle with English, be sure to find someone fluent in Spanish.
"Get educated. Find a support group, so that if you need to talk to somebody, you can talk there. Because there are people like you who are dealing with the same thing. Also, get a doctor who is a specialist on HIV. That's important, because not every doctor knows about HIV."
-- Louis Curbelo, diagnosed in 1987
Your health care provider is your partner in fighting the virus. She or he will be your ally for a long time, helping you deal with the ups and downs of HIV disease, the drugs that control the virus, the side effects that may come with the drugs, and many other health issues.
There's a nationwide network of services, programs and resources to help people with HIV remain healthy -- even people who may be undocumented or have no insurance or low incomes.
"It's important that undocumented people know that they should seek HIV treatment and health care and know that they are not going to put themselves at risk for being deported. There is health care for them."
-- James Nicacio, diagnosed in 2001
Many big cities have state-of-the-art HIV clinics for people who have no insurance. An HIV clinic will give you better care than other types of health clinics or hospital emergency rooms, since it is staffed by HIV specialists and is equipped specifically to help people with HIV. When you enroll in these clinics, you get medical care from a top team of HIV health care providers as well as counseling and support for mental health, substance abuse and other issues. You may be assigned to a case manager, who will become the person you can turn to first for whatever help you need -- such as figuring out which government programs can pay for your HIV medications and HIV care.
Live in a rural area? Getting the best HIV care possible may mean traveling to the nearest city several times a year -- an extra effort, but one that will repay you with better health.
For a list of HIV clinics near you, call the CDC Health Line at 1-800-232-4636 (for Spanish operators, dial 2 on your phone when message begins).
"First things first: Find a good doctor, someone who is an expert on HIV; get checked frequently; get your basic counts at least every three months. Also, begin getting more balanced nutrition. It's also good to get closer to your family, to stop risky behaviors and to get information. If you can, get yourself a computer and get connected to the Internet. There's a lot of information out there."
-- James Nicacio, diagnosed in 2001
This article was provided by TheBody.com. It is a part of the publication HIV and Me.