What Does an HIV Diagnosis Mean?
If you've been diagnosed with HIV, it means that you were exposed to the virus and a test has shown that you are now living with HIV in your body. Unlike some other viruses, the human body can't get rid of HIV completely, even with treatment. So once you have HIV, you have it for life.
It is important that you start medical care and take medicine to treat HIV as soon as possible after diagnosis. This medicine is called antiretroviral therapy, or ART.
Taking HIV medicine as prescribed can make your viral load very low. This is called viral suppression -- usually defined as having less than 200 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood.
HIV medicine can make your viral load so low that a test can't detect it. This is called an undetectable viral load. Getting and keeping an undetectable viral load is the best thing you can do to stay healthy. Also, if your viral load stays undetectable, you have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative sex partner.
If a person with HIV does not get medical care, HIV will attack the immune system and they will eventually develop AIDS. AIDS can allow different types of life-threatening infections and cancers to develop and can lead to death.
A cure for HIV does not yet exist, but taking HIV medicine as prescribed can keep people with HIV healthy for many years and helps reduce their risk of transmitting HIV to others.
What Should I Do If I Just Got Diagnosed With HIV?
First, take a deep breath. Give yourself some time to process the news but keep in mind the sooner you take action, the more likely you are to have a long and healthy life.
If you got your diagnosis in a health care provider's office or a setting like a health fair or testing event, you probably got a lot of information about HIV, its treatment, and how to stay healthy. If you did not get much information, this website is a good place to start.
If you got a diagnosis by taking one of the two FDA-approved HIV home test kits, the manufacturers can help you with the next steps. Both manufacturers provide confidential counseling and, depending on the test you used, will give you either a referral to get a follow-up test or will perform a follow-up test on the blood sample that you submitted.
How Do I Find HIV Care and Treatment?
If you have a primary health care provider (someone who manages your regular medical care and annual tests), that person may have the medical knowledge to treat your HIV. If not, he or she can refer you to a health care provider who is a specialist in providing HIV care and treatment. Here are some Web sites that can help you find care:
- Find HIV care services across the United States, including HIV medical care, housing assistance, and substance abuse and mental health services (from HIV.gov).
- Find your state HIV/AIDS toll-free hotline to connect with agencies that can help determine what services you are eligible for and help you get them (from the Health Resources and Services Administration).
- Find Ryan White HIV medical care providers who can help people with HIV access the medical care they need but can't afford (from the Health Resources and Services Administration).
- Search for HIV care specialists and members of the American Academy of HIV Medicine for direct access to HIV practitioners across the country (from the American Academy of HIV Medicine).
[Note from TheBody: This article was created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who last updated it on July 23, 2018. We have cross-posted it with their permission.]