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Has a friend or loved one recently told you they have HIV? You may feel torn between wanting to help them, and feeling worried about your own risk.

You’ll be glad to hear you can continue being close and supportive, while also staying safe.

Learn more about UPMC’s HIV services

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Learn About HIV

At trusted websites, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and HIV.gov, you can learn about HIV and how it spreads. HIV is a virus that targets the infection-fighting immune cells.

Without treatment, HIV will typically progress to AIDS. In AIDS, the immune system struggles to fight infections due to damage caused by the virus. Without treatment, people with AIDS often die within 2 years.

Fortunately, medicines are available that suppress the virus in the body, so that most people who have HIV never develop AIDS. People with HIV now live into old age.

Rest assured that you have no risk of getting HIV simply by living with someone, sharing food or utensils, or kissing. HIV is almost always spread through sexual contact and sharing needles. Transmission occurs less frequently at birth or from a workplace needlestick injury.

Support a Roommate, Friend, or Family Member

If a friend or family member is newly diagnosed, the most important thing to do is to listen.

Because stigma around HIV persists, this person may feel shame and think that others will judge them. They may feel anxious about becoming sick and dying, as HIV was once seen as a death sentence.

In these conversations, reassure your loved one that their HIV diagnosis doesn’t change the way you feel about them. Emphasize the ways in which they will continue to contribute to their family, workplace, and community.

Engage your loved one in activities that you’ve always done together — such as going to restaurants, traveling, or hiking. That way, they’ll see their diagnosis isn’t diminishing their quality of life.

Encourage Your Loved One to Start Treatment

The CDC recommends that all people who are HIV positive begin treatment immediately and stay on treatment. Starting HIV drugs too late or taking them inconsistently allows the virus to replicate and cause damage in the body.

You can help your loved one find a health provider who is comfortable starting them on HIV medicine and managing their condition.

You can also help your loved one be sure to take their medicines around the same time each day.

Reminders from you, alarms, and day-of-the-week pill boxes are some ways to help your friend or loved one remember to take their medicine. Studies show that people who have close and supportive loved ones are more likely to stick to their HIV drug regimen.

Protect Yourself if You Are in a Romantic Relationship With Someone Who Has HIV

If you’re in a sexual relationship with someone with HIV, you should get tested immediately. It’s possible to have unprotected sex with someone who is HIV positive and remain HIV negative. But it’s also possible to contract HIV from a single sexual contact.

Condoms are effective in preventing the spread of HIV, as long as they don’t leak or break.

Another option is to take a daily medicine called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). This prevents HIV from infecting you, even if you have sex with someone who is HIV positive.

Another medicine known as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) can prevent HIV if taken within 72 hours of exposure.

Over time, medicines can suppress HIV so well that a person has virtually no chance of spreading it. It can take up to 6 months of regular treatment to get to the stage where someone with HIV has an undetectable viral load.

You may feel comfortable having unprotected sex with someone who has an undetectable viral load. But you’ll have to trust that they are monitoring their infection and adhering to treatment.

You also can find other ways to show intimacy. The likelihood of getting HIV through oral sex is extremely low, although other infections can easily spread this way.

Talk to your health provider about your own concerns with getting the virus and for help in creating a plan to stay HIV negative. Your health provider also can help you communicate your concerns and needs with your loved one.

Sources

CDC. About HIV. Link

CDC. How can I protect my partners? Link.

Dr. Aruna Chandran et al. The Longitudinal Association between Social Support on HIV Medication Adherence and Healthcare Utilization in the Women's Interagency HIV Study. AIDS and Behaviour. Link

Dr. Shelley Gilroy. HIV Infection and AIDS. Medscape. Link

Dr. Tamar Goldenberg and Dr. Rob Stephenson. “The More Support You Have the Better": Partner Support and Dyadic HIV Care Across the Continuum for Gay and Bisexual Men. Link

HIV.gov. HIV Basics. Link

Dr. Julia Marcus et al. Comparison of Overall and Comorbidity-Free Life Expectancy Between Insured Adults With and Without HIV Infection, 2000-2016. JAMA Network Open. Link

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 10 things to Know About HIV Suppression. Link

Office of Women's Health. HIV Prevention. Link

About Infectious Diseases

If you have a disease caused by bacteria, fungi, parasite, or virus, the UPMC Center for Care of Infectious Diseases can help. We have specialty units for prevention and treatment of HIV-AIDs, postsurgical and transplant infections, and illnesses caused by international travel. Our faculty research infectious diseases and participate in clinical trials to learn more and develop better treatment and prevention methods.