What happens if you discover that you are HIV-positive?
By Dr Sindi
The first thing that you need to do is go to your nearest clinic for blood tests. You need to have a CD4 count test done – amongst other blood tests. The CD4 count will tell us how strong your immune system is at the moment. The nurse or doctor at the clinic will also examine you to check if you have any medical conditions that need treatment or that indicate that you need to start antiretroviral treatment regardless of CD4 count.
If your CD4 count is above 500 and you have no medical conditions, then you will not start treatment. If your CD4 count is less than 500 or you have certain HIV-related medical conditions such as TB then you will start lifelong antiretroviral treatment. If you are pregnant, you will start treatment and take it for the rest of your life.
Why is treatment important?
The treatment works by slowing down the virus. The virus is prevented from infecting CD4 cells and using them to multiply. We check that the treatment is working by doing a viral load blood test. The viral load is the number of HIV copies made by the virus in the CD4 cells. Ideally we want the test result to be 'lower than detectable' or 'less than 40'.
Counselling is also very important. You need to accept your status and if possible disclose to one person that you trust. It is important for one other person to know that you are HIV-positive so that you can be helped when you need it. If you are in a sexual relationship, it is important for you to disclose to your partner and to encourage your partner to go and get tested. Make sure that safer sex is discussed and condoms become a non-negotiable part of your sexual relationship.
Lastly, you need to have hope. HIV is not a death sentence. We have treatment available that is easy to take once a day. If you take your treatment every day, you will live a long and healthy life.
Remember that HIV stands for Hope is Victory!
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