I'm HIV-positive, what now?
Receiving a positive test result for HIV is the beginning of multiple emotions and feelings. Knowing what care and treatment services are available and how to access them are extremely important to living well with HIV. A variety of confidential services are available in Florida to help improve your quality of life. Many of these services are available for free. For more information call the Florida HIV/AIDS Hotline 1-800-FLA-AIDS.
New treatments and medications as well as emotional support can lead to longer, healthier lives for people with HIV. The more you know about this chronic illness, the more you’ll be able to work with health care providers to manage your own health care.
Everyone approaches HIV in a different way. Most people have a lot of questions about HIV when they learn about their diagnosis – what it means, what to do about it, how long a person can live, and where to get treatment. We can help you find the answers, but you’ll also need to work closely with a health care provider to decide what is right for you.
If you are HIV positive, start by finding an agency that provides HIV-related or health services in your area. The agency will provide you with a case manager- someone who knows about HIV programs and services, medications, treatments and related illnesses. If you have a primary healthcare provider that you prefer to contact, ask your doctor to work closely with an HIV specialist to ensure that you receive all the benefits for which you are eligible, as well as the best care possible.
Since HIV is a chronic illness, consider talking with someone who can help you through this difficult time. To help you begin the process of entering care and treatment, your primary health care or case management provider can refer you to a counselor, social worker, someone living with HIV/AIDS, or a mental health professional.
In addition to your healthcare provider, consider connecting with a local AIDS service organization in your area. They may be able to assist you with case management services, housing and transportation, and finding HIV support groups in your area. Learning to live with HIV can be overwhelming and confusing at times; local AIDS service organizations can help.
The Florida Department of Health strives to meet its goals of keeping HIV-positive individuals both physically and mentally healthy; preventing further transmission of HIV; and involving people living with HIV in prevention activities, leadership and advocacy.
Get Linked to Care
It is estimated that 20-25% of persons living with HIV know they are infected and are not receiving consistent medical care. Combined with the people who are newly diagnosed, there is a great need to focus on linking HIV-positive individuals to available care and treatment. In Florida, we have a number of specific programs working to connect people to care and maintain that care over time. We invite community providers, consumers, patient care advocates, clinical staff and others to be a part of the “Linkage Team” as we assist HIV-positive individuals to find a medical home.
Treatment as Prevention
If you test positive for HIV, treatment should start immediately. Studies show that individuals who start treatment right away stay healthier longer and have a lower viral load. Viral load is the term used to describe the amount of HIV in your blood. If your viral load is lower you are less likely to transmit HIV to others.
Medication adherence means sticking to an HIV regimen—taking HIV medication exactly as prescribed. Side effects, stigma, and barriers to access all can make it difficult to stick to an HIV regimen, but HIV medications prevent HIV from multiplying, which protects the immune system and reduces the risk of drug resistance and HIV treatment failure.
Depression and Mental Health
Depression and mental health issues can lower the quality of life among HIV-positive individuals and their families. It can also affect participation in HIV care and treatment programs. The Florida HIV/AIDS Hotline can link you to services that address these issues.
Stigma and Disclosure
Stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and disclosure of one’s HIV status are two complex issues faced by people living with HIV/AIDS. Disclosing one’s HIV status is an extremely personal decision that HIV-positive individuals face every day. Stigma occurs when others are prejudiced toward or discriminate against a person or group of people because they have a certain disease. Stigma heavily impacts personal and community prevention efforts, and can certainly have an effect on whether or not someone feels comfortable enough to disclose their HIV status.
Practicing safer sex is important for everyone and particularly for HIV-positive individuals. Persons living with HIV/AIDS still need to practice safer sex to decrease the risk of being exposed to other STDs such as herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), syphilis, and even other strains of HIV infection. For persons living with HIV/AIDS, these STDs can be more serious and can have an effect on an already compromised immune system. It is critical to continue to practice safer sex even if you and your partner are both infected with HIV. It is possible to be “re-infected” with a different strain of HIV, which in turn, may not respond to your current HIV medications. This new strain could also potentially be resistant to other HIV drugs, making it more difficult to treat.
Florida is ranked second in the United States for total pediatric AIDS cases and most HIV-positive infants and children are infected through the birth process. As a result, Florida has specific laws in place that require health care providers to conduct routine prenatal screening for STDs, including HIV. Still, we continue to see infected babies.
The Perinatal HIV Prevention Community is an educational platform that powers dialog to assure that all health care providers know and understand the laws related to HIV/STD testing and reporting in pregnancy and why this continues to be an important issue in our communities. We’ve designed the Perinatal Community to be simple to use. It offers a variety of resources related to testing and prevention of mother-to-child transmission and provides the necessary tools to help you make your facility proactive in the fight against HIV. Click here to learn more.