Being diagnosed with HIV will be one of the most significant events in your life. There are no right or wrong ways to respond. But there is plenty of help available and life can still be good. Find out more here.
It might feel difficult to appreciate this now, but finding out you have HIV puts you in a position where you can start to take positive steps towards looking after your health. Although there's no cure for HIV, treatments mean people with HIV can live longer, healthier lives, with a near-to-normal life expectancy. You are going to need specialist medical care for your HIV. And you will have to make decisions about issues such as who you tell, when and how to disclose your status. There's information on these things and much, much more on this site, but you might want to start with the basics.
In the UK, nearly all HIV treatment and care is provided by specialist hospital clinics. There are hospitals offering HIV specialist care in all the major cities in the UK. These clinics operate an open-access policy so you don't need to be referred by your GP. You can find out more about HIV clinics and the services they offer here, and you can search for all HIV, genitourinary medicine (GUM) and sexual health clinics where HIV care is given on the aidsmap website here.
Although there is no cure for HIV, and it can still be fatal, treatments now mean you can live a long and healthy life. As soon as you've received your diagnosis, you can start receiving the appopriate medical care. This will include some key tests to monitor your health, and advice about starting treatment - when it might be necessary and what it involves.
Your HIV clinic can also give you advice about day-to-day health issues and how to stay as healthy as possible.
Reducing the amount of HIV in the blood has been shown to reduce the risk of becoming ill or dying from HIV, so reducing the 'viral load', and keeping it low, is the aim of HIV treatment.
There are guidelines in the UK suggesting the best time to start treatment is when your CD4 cell count is near or below 350. Your doctor will talk to you about the possibility of starting treatment when tests show you are reaching that level. You're bound to have lots of questions about starting treatment and what it will mean for you - we answer some of them here, or you can find more detailed information here.
HIV can be passed on from an HIV-positive mother to her child, but the treatment and health care available today is very good at preventing this from happening. Many HIV-positive women in the UK have healthy babies without passing on HIV. It's important to talk to your doctor or midwife about your concerns. You can read more in the section on mother-to-baby transmission of HIV.
Although HIV treatment is a very effective way of making sure you stay healthy, starting treatment can be daunting. Newer HIV drugs are much easier to take, but side-effects do vary depending on the drug and from person to person. It's important to talk to your doctor about what to expect and what you can do if you are having side-effects. Take a look at the sections on HIV treatment and Side-effects for more information.
Taking your anti-HIV drugs properly is the single most important thing you can do to ensure the success of your HIV treatment. Sticking to your drug regimen is called adherence. There are several reasons why adherence is so important and you can find out more here.
You should try to take all your doses correctly, but certainly aim for doing so at least 95% of the time. That will mean different things depending on your regimen, but you can find out more about this here - and some tips to help you here.
At some point, even if your HIV treatment is working well, you are likely to become ill. People with HIV are just as likely to get the routine illnesses that other people get, such as colds or the flu. But sometimes your symptom or illness will be connected with HIV - either a result of a weakened immune system or a side-effect of your medication. If your symptoms persist for more than a few days, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.
You can find out more about some symptoms and illnesses linked to HIV and its treatment on this site, as well as some of the non-HIV illnesses that might affect you. But remember, many of these are rarely seen in people with HIV now, thanks to successful treatment.
Whether you tell sexual partners about your HIV status is a personal decision. You may have heard about people with HIV being prosecuted for transmitting HIV. If you use condoms properly and consistently, you are protecting your partners from HIV and the law recognises this as meaning you are not 'recklessly' or 'intentionally' passing on HIV. It's an important question and it's a good idea to keep yourself informed about developments in the law. You can read more in the section of this website on HIV and the law.
The blood tests you have done at your HIV clinic show your doctor how well your immune system is coping with HIV. The CD4 count is one of the results you will get. There is more information about the CD4 count in the section on Key tests to monitor HIV and it's a good idea to talk to your doctor, or someone else at your clinic like a health adviser or nurse, about your results, so they can explain them to you.
It's an indication of just how successful HIV treatment can be that many people with HIV are either remaining at work or thinking about going back to work or study.
Money worries can be a real headache and often get worse if you don't take action, so it's important to tackle them as soon as possible.
In some cases, you might need to get specialist advice about your particular situation, but here is some general information and some suggestions of where to get more help. We will be adding more information on welfare benefits next year, so there will be more to see then.
You can also find information on sorting out your personal affairs - something everyone should do, whether they have HIV or not!