You have a long life ahead of you. A person who is diagnosed with HIV in a timely way will have close to a normal life expectancy. Even ‘late’ diagnosis, when HIV has begun to damage the immune system, is easier to treat than ever before, due to the wide range of medication available. If you are diagnosed in a timely way, and you take your medicine as prescribed, you will not develop AIDS or experience problems with your immune system.
You can still enjoy a meaningful life:
Treatment is easier than ever. Most people are taking one pill each day and experiencing few side effects. They see their usual GP with occasional visits to an HIV specialist. You will get regular blood tests to confirm that treatment is working for you — this may be every 3 or 6 months at first, and then yearly after that.
Keeping an eye on your viral load. These tests are monitoring your viral load — the number of copies of the virus in a millilitre sample of blood — and your CD4 count — the number of a particular kind of immune cell that measures the impact of HIV on your immune system.
Undetectable means untransmittable. There is a new scientific consensus that a person with suppressed viral load (under 200 copies/ml) cannot pass on HIV during sex, even if condoms are not used. This is based on rigorous studies involving lots of people, which did not find a single occasion where HIV was transmitted from a person with suppressed viral load. This includes all kinds of sex (oral, anal, vaginal).
Protection when nursing infants. There is ongoing discussion about whether suppressed viral load also prevents infection when breast feeding or chest feeding infants. NAPWHA’s health literacy project is working with women living with HIV and the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine to develop clear guidelines on the likely risk of transmission during breast or chest feeding.
Protection when sharing injecting equipment. There is currently no evidence that having an undetectable viral load can prevent HIV transmission when sharing injecting equipment.