Will you be HIV positive if you stay with someone that’s been diagnosed with HIV? What are the do’s and don’ts when you live with someone who is HIV positive? Should you move out or will you start panicking? What will you do?
HIV is not a death sentence. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that as many as half of all HIV-positive people globally live in long-term relationships have HIV-negative partners (this is also known as a sero-discordant relationship). This retrovirus is transmitted through bodily fluids and blood. The HIV virus kills cells that are found in the immune system called T cells or CD4 cells. These cells are responsible for fighting against infections.
Helping yourself and your partner
Understanding HIV and how to prevent exposure is critical to maintaining a safe and healthy relationship. Couples in mixed-status relationships (sero-discordant relationships) can still have an exciting sex life if they take some precautions.
A healthy relationship should include:
- Ensuring the partner adheres to their medications (Undetectable = Untransmittable) U=U
- Discussing and choosing the best prevention options available for both people in the relationship
- Avoid using baby oil, vaseline or any other oil-based lubricant as it can cause the condom to break or split.
- Using a condom that fits properly
- Put on a condom before any kind of sexual contact, whether it may be vaginal, oral or anal.
- Every time you have intercourse, use a new condom.
- Consider using HIV PrEP
What about everything else? HIV is only in certain bodily fluids: blood, semen, and vaginal and anal secretions. To infect someone else, those fluids have to get into that person’s body, usually through a mucus membrane or cut/wound. So you can sexually satisfy each other safely, using your hands or your bodies, as long as you’re careful about where those fluids are going. You’re more likely to spread HIV when you have multiple sex partners, have other STDs, or use injectable drugs.
PreP or PEP?
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a course of medication whereby an uninfected person is given antiretroviral drugs to avoid getting permanently infected with the HIV virus. It is a preventive method that can greatly lower the risk of the HIV virus from replicating in the body once you have been exposed to it. For people who are not HIV positive but have a high-risk lifestyle, PreP is usually recommended and other methods of protection such as condoms and circumcision.
PEP is a course of medication taken after sex if there’s been a risk of exposure to HIV.
This can include instances when:
- a condom breaks
- a condom wasn’t used
- someone without HIV comes in contact with blood or bodily fluids from someone with HIV and a detectable viral load
- someone without HIV comes in contact with blood or bodily fluids from someone whose HIV status is unknown to them
PEP is only effective if taken within 72 hours after exposure to HIV. It must be taken daily, or as otherwise prescribed, for 28 days.
SO, what does it Mean When Your Partner Is ‘Undetectable’ ? If an HIV-positive person maintains an undetectable viral load for six months while taking antiretroviral therapy (ART), experts consider that that person’s risk of passing HIV to a sexual partner is virtually nonexistent. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Trusted Source, define an undetectable viral load as fewer than 200 copies per millilitre (mL) of blood.
However, undetectable doesn’t mean being cured. The viral load in the blood may be undetectable, the virus still exists in the body, including in fluids like semen and vaginal secretions. Furthermore, people with HIV can experience a “blip,” in which the viral load increases in response to a cold, vaccination, and other circumstances. Staying undetectable really depends on strict adherence to an HIV medication regimen.
Antiretroviral medications control the virus by reducing the amount of HIV found in the blood, which is also known as the viral load. These medications also lower the amount of the virus in other bodily fluids such as semen, anal or rectal secretions, and vaginal fluids. They will need close care and guidance. Medications must be taken as advised at the right time with the right dosage.
What can I do?
How can I help my HIV+ partner?
1. Listen– If your partner tells you that they are HIV positive, listen to them and offer them your support. Always remember to be accepting, having HIV does not mean that life is over. There are drugs that are effective in treating HIV and can keep your partner healthy as well as keep you safe from getting infected. Do not judge them of their past. They have come to you because they trusted you, do not lash out on them.
2. Be informed about HIV– Learn what HIV is, how it’s transmitted, its symptoms, and how it’s treated. The more you know, the more you can offer to help. Find out how your HIV positive partner can stay healthy and how you can protect yourself from getting infected. Shower them with care especially when they are broken on the inside.
3. Be encouraging– When your partner informs you that they are HIV positive, be encouraging. DO encourage them to seek treatment as soon as possible. When HIV is treated early using antiretroviral therapy, the infected person can protect themselves against infections. They too can reduce the chance of spreading the virus to others. They can also live longer and they can greatly reduce their risk of developing AIDS.
4. Medications– There is no miracle pill that works in a day. Make sure your partner takes their medication every day. Since the HIV virus attacks the immune system, it becomes hard for the body to fight against infections. So ensure that your partner takes their medication every day and also make sure that they are eating a healthy balanced diet. Get them on good supplements.
5. Get support– In Malaysia, there are few support groups. You and your partner can join a support group for people living with the virus. Talk to other people like friends and family about your situation. This is something new, so get yourself in a circle of people that have dealt with such a situation. Talk about your concerns, feelings, and thoughts about your partner and the disease. If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your physician about them. Try to get as much help as you can as this can help you and your partner stay both physically and mentally healthy.
Stigma blocks access to HIV testing and treatment services, making onwards transmission more likely. If anyone comes up to you and reveals they have tested positive, please guide them carefully. Be supportive.
Also read: HIV Testing
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