Living with HIV

HIV is a serious infection that attacks your immune system and tries to destroy your body's defences against illness. We now know a lot about HIV's effect on the body and how to treat it.

Very strong evidence has emerged in recent years showing that getting your viral load (the amount of virus in your blood) down to an undetectable level with HIV treatment and keeping it there is the best way to maintain your health and prevent HIV transmission. An undetectable viral load sustained over time leads to longer life and fewer HIV-related symptoms. It also means having fewer other illnesses that would occur because of having a weakened immune system. There's also growing evidence that an undetectable viral load makes transmitting HIV much less likely.

Taking breaks from treatment isn't a good idea. Treatment breaks have been shown to cause rises in viral load, damage to the immune system and the onset of AIDS-related illnesses. They have also been shown to cause HIV to quickly become resistant to HIV medications so they are no longer effective in fighting the virus.

HIV treatment is constantly improving. Recent advances in treatment mean most people only have to take a few pills a day. Side effects of treatment have also improved, although some people still have problems with some medications.

Percentage of HIV positive men on medication

Percentage of HIV positive men on medication

We're also learning more about the effects of having HIV for many years. It's become clear that people with HIV can experience conditions associated with premature ageing. These conditions include heart disease, loss of bone density, liver and kidney disease, cancers and diabetes. This means that - wherever possible - it's important to take steps to lower your general risk of getting these conditions earlier than you might have otherwise. Smoking cessation, regular exercise and eating healthily are important.

A lot of positive men choose not to use condoms with each other. Obviously HIV transmission isn't a major issue here but other sexually transmitted infections are. Regular sexual health testing is essential. There's been a growing number of cases where hepatitis C has been passed between positive men during unprotected sex so it's important for sexually active HIV positive guys to get tested for hepatitis C as well.

There have been a number of cases where positive men have been reinfected with a different strain of HIV than the one they already have. This seems more likely to happen early on in HIV infection and much less likely to occur among men who are on effective HIV treatment.

Improvements in HIV treatment are making it easier to control the virus and keep people with HIV healthy.

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I probably think a little bit more consciously about my health and things like that. At the moment, now that I've found my medications and it's under control, I feel good about it.

David, HIV positive

It's happened and I just deal with it. I do what I need to do to lead my life.

Jason, HIV positive

ACON Health Limited trading as ACON | 414 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills NSW 2010 | PO Box 350, Darlinghurst, NSW 1300 | Tel. (02) 9206 2000 | Fax. (02) 9206 2069 | Freecall: 1800 063 060 | Hearing Impaired: (02) 9283 2088 Email: acon@acon.org.au | www.acon.org.au | ABN 38 136 883 915 | Authority to Fundraise CFN/21473
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