There are many ways people can fight HIV stigma in our lives and in our community, whether you are a person living with HIV or HIV-negative. In many cases, stigma around HIV exists alongside other forms of stigma and discrimination, such as: discrimination against people who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual (called homophobia); discrimination against people who are transgender (transphobia); and, discrimination or stigma directed at people who use drugs. Ageism, or negative feelings toward people who are young or old, can also play a role in HIV stigma. To effectively address HIV stigma, it is important to address homophobia, transphobia, stigma directed to people who use drugs and ageism. Reducing stigma around HIV is about promoting a community where people are accepted for who they are, and we celebrate our similarities and differences. Here is some idea for how to address stigma:
Break the silence around HIV in your community. Acknowledge HIV just as you would any other chronic illness.
Get information about HIV testing and know your own HIV status.
Treat people living with HIV with compassion and acceptance.
Learn supportive ways to react when someone tells you they are living with HIV.
Educate your community that HIV is not transmitted through casual contact.
Avoid using language that overtly stigmatizes others.
Treat people living with HIV as you would treat anyone else: with respect, empathy, and compassion.
A person can tell if his or her HIV treatment is working by looking at the results of the blood tests that measure viral load and the health of the immune system. An HIV treatment regimen is considered effective if: it’s able to control HIV to the point that the virus is “undetectable”; or the CD4 count is close to or within the normal range. Even when HIV treatment is effective, the virus is still present, but the viral load level is low enough that HIV is considered controlled.
A negative test result generally means you do not have HIV. However, if you have had a recent exposure you may be in the “window period.” The window period is the period of time between someone potentially being exposed to HIV and when the test is able to detect it. If the first result comes back negative and there is still concern, getting tested again 3 months after the last possible exposure can help you to be sure. People who have a negative test result but would like to reduce the risk of HIV may want to consider Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is a daily pill that people take so they can reduce their worry about acquiring HIV and keep HIV from entering your body. You may want to consider taking PrEP if you are:
A gay or bisexual man who has unprotected sex
A transgender woman who has sex with men
In a relationship with a person who is living with HIV • Someone who has condomless sex with multiple partners • A person who has been diagnosed with an STD in the past 6 months • People who have injected drugs in the past six months and have shared needles or works
Health care providers should test everyone at least once as part of routine health care. However, if you continue having unprotected sex or sharing injection drug equipment, you should get tested at least once a year. Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing (e.g., every 3 to 6 months). If you think you have had a potential exposure to HIV, you should consider PEP and get tested as soon as possible. If you receive a negative test result, you may want to consider PrEP.
Testing is important because it is the only way to know if you have HIV. The sooner that HIV is detected, the sooner medical care can begin. Getting early HIV treatment will help keep you healthy and prevent HIV from affecting how long you live or how well you feel.
A woman who has HIV can pass the virus to her baby during:
There remains no cure or vaccine for HIV.
There are several steps you can take to reduce the chances of contracting HIV, including:
• Use Condoms. Find the right size and choose a type of condom you like.
• Use Lube. Use water-based or silicone-based lubricant – particularly for anal or vaginal sex – to prevent tears in the skin and to keep condoms from breaking.
• Get Tested. It’s the only way to know if you or a partner has HIV.
• Test and Treat STIs. Having an active STI, or even a history of certain STIs, can make it easier to acquire or transmit HIV.
• Talk to Your Partners. Ask sexual partners about the last time they got tested for HIV and other STIs. Consider getting tested together.
• Date Undetectable. By consistently taking their medication, people living with HIV are able to lower the amount of HIV in their bodies to undetectable levels. While undetectable, a person living with HIV remains in good health, and it is virtually impossible for them to transmit the virus to a partner. Prevention options (e.g., condoms, PrEP) exist for those in relationships where one partner is not yet undetectable.
• Be mindful of drug and alcohol use. Substance use can increase your chances of acquiring HIV directly and indirectly, depending on the circumstances.
• Change Syringes. If you inject hormones, drugs or steroids, use a new, clean syringe and other injection equipment every time.
• Consider PEP. PEP is an HIV prevention strategy that can be used in emergency situations, such as condomless sex with someone whose HIV status you do not know.
• Consider PrEP. PrEP is an HIV prevention strategy that can be taken every day to significantly reduce the likelihood of acquiring HIV.
There are several different ways to test for HIV, from oral swabs to home testing kits. There are also thousands of locations across the country where you can get an HIV test at little or no cost to you.
The symptoms of HIV vary, depending on the individual and what stage of HIV you are in. In its beginning stage, HIV does not have unique symptoms and can be indistinguishable from the flu, so it is important to get tested regularly. Regular testing ensures that you can detect HIV early and begin treatment as soon as possible.
- HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. If HIV is not treated, it can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
- There is currently no effective cure. Once people get HIV, they have it for life.
- But with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. People with HIV who get effective HIV treatment can live long, healthy lives and protect their partners.