If I find I am infected, what should I do next:

It’s hard to imagine what could send a chill through your spine more than finding out you are HIV positive. So frightening is the prospect that many people do not get tested just to avoid the possibility of being given the bad news. Although very frightening, finding out you are HIV positive is no longer a death sentence. The advent of treatments and medications to prevent infection has made it possible to live with HIV rather than die from AIDS.

A Long Healthy Life – It Is Possible

Being HIV positive doesn’t mean you necessarily have AIDS. HIV is a virus that slowly damages the immune system, leaving the body at greater risk for developing many infections considered AIDS defining. However, one can be HIV positive without having AIDS. And while there is no medicine or treatment to completely rid the body of HIV, there are several medicines that can keep the virus in check, protecting the immune system from damage and thus slowing the progression of HIV to AIDS. Simply put, with the proper medical care and by taking care of yourself you can live a long healthy life with HIV.

Who Should You Tell and How?

With all that being said, the fact remains that despite the good prognosis of today’s HIV patient, being diagnosed is scary, confusing, and depressing. And in those first few hours and days after getting your diagnosis, support from medical professionals, family, loved ones and friends with be crucial. You don’t need to go through the process alone. But in order to get the support you need, you have to tell someone about your diagnosis – and that can be a daunting task. However, by following a few guidelines, you can disclose your status and develop your support network.

How To Tell

Once you find out you are positive, take a moment and decide who you feel will be supportive and who won’t. Consider the following while you are disclosing your status.

  • When considering who to tell, first ask yourself what you hope to gain from telling that person. And while you should hope for the support you are looking for, be prepared for the possibility that the one you tell may not take it as you had hoped.
  • There is a grieving process that comes with learning you are HIV positive. Keep in mind that those you tell may also grieve in their own way. They may feel sadness that you are sick; anger because you have become infected; or may deny what you are telling them all together.
  • Help them accept the news by providing educational materials that helps them understand the disease.
  • Give them the time they need to adjust to the news. Just as you will need time to understand and accept your diagnosis, those you choose to tell will need time to understand your diagnosis as well. But with time and some help from you they will move through these feelings and will come to be the support you are looking for.

Who To Tell

Support can come from a lot of different places and people that are a part of your life. Some of the people you can consider telling include:

  • Parents
  • Spouses
  • Partners
  • Family members
  • Counselors or social workers

Important Information! While who you tell or don’t tell is entirely up to you, the only people you must tell are potential sex partners. It is also suggested you disclose your diagnosis to your dentist and health care providers so they can take better care of you. Keep in mind you don’t need to tell everyone about your HIV right away. Only disclose your status when you feel the time is right and the person you are going to tell is ready.

Knowledge is Power – Know Your Illness

The next step in managing your diagnosis is getting to know the disease. Learn as much as you can about HIV. It is said that knowledge is power. HIV is the perfect example of how knowing your illness, and knowing your body can help manage your disease. There are two important sources of HIV information.

Your HIV Specialist

Your HIV specialist, nurses, social workers and dieticians can be an excellent source of HIV information. Often, they will have brochures, fact sheets, and other types of educational material that you can review in the privacy of your home. Make sure during your doctor appointment you ask plenty of questions and don’t leave until you fully understand the answers.

The Internet
There are literally thousands of informative sites across the web. Keep these things in mind when looking for HIV information on the web.

  • Some sites are more reliable than others.
  • Find sites that provide current information in an easy to use format.
  • Any information older than 2 years should be considered outdated.
  • When you’re just starting out on the web, stick with the larger sites that are updated regularly.
  • If you don’t know where to begin, ask your doctor or local HIV agency what web sites they recommend.

Important Information! Never rely solely on any information you find on the Internet without first reviewing it with your physician.

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The mission of the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation is to cultivate a healthy and stigma-free society through transformative action.