The moments after learning you’re HIV-positive can seem like a virtual free fall. In a matter of seconds, you are sent into a tailspin of what-if scenarios and your vision is filled with horrific images from a bad movie montage. Your mind races, then stalls completely, working in frantic fits and spurts and grasping onto the nuggets of information you can remember about what it is to be HIV-positive today.

The nurse tells you that you are going to be just fine and that HIV is now a manageable disease. The doctor tells you that if you take care of yourself, you can expect to live the same amount of time as you would have if you were HIV-negative. But still, there is an inescapable fear of the unknown. What does it mean to live with HIV? What is going to have to change in your life, and more importantly, what can you expect to remain the same?

You aren’t alone. There are so many others who have gone through the exact same thing and have already asked all the same burning questions that you need to know the answers to. Below are some quick answers to those questions you probably have.

What do I do now?
The first thing to do is to stop panicking. You are the same person who walked into the clinic before receiving your test results. It may seem like everything has changed, but it hasn’t. Still, there are some things you can do to ease your mind and find your way back to being OK.

Find a doctor who is highly knowledgeable about HIV and is the right fit for you. You might be surprised about how uneducated your average family doctor is about HIV and how to treat it. The last thing you need is to be treated by a doctor who has just as many questions as you have. There are many HIV specialists who know exactly how to treat you, and that includes how to ease your concerns. These doctors can also act as your primary physician, who will keep your HIV diagnosis in mind when minor health issues arise along the way.

I found a doctor — now what?
During your first appointment, your doctor will do your initial lab work. This is to see what your CD4 count and viral load is. Your CD4 count is the number of disease-fighting white blood cells you have in your body and your viral load is the number of copies of HIV that are in your system. Your doctor will also determine whether the virus you have is resistant to any medications, which is unlikely.

This sounds scary, but it doesn’t have to be. No matter what your CD4 count may be, most people can bring their count up by simply taking a single-pill regimen. The same medication can also reduce your viral load to an undetectable level, making it highly improbable for you to transmit the virus to someone else. Most likely, this will be the extent of managing your virus, along with regular checkups with your doctor to make sure that your body is healthy and that your medication is working. The key to staying healthy and keeping an undetectable viral load is to never miss a dose — just as you should with medication for any other ailment.

Can I only have sex with other people who are also HIV-positive?
Of course not! Today, there are multiple ways to have safe sex, and believe it or not, most men are knowledgeable enough to know that informed sex is the safest sex of all, regardless of status. Again, staying compliant with your meds and maintaining an undetectable viral load is the best way to ensure that you never transmit the virus. This method of prevention is for your protection just as much as it is for your partner.

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