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AIDS and HIV Infection Living with HIV and AIDS

Coping with confirmed HIV infection

Learning that you are infected with HIV will change your life dramatically. You may experience a wide range of emotions, fear, loss, grief, depression, denial, anger, anxiety. No matter how reassuring the doctor, how effective drug therapies are now and will become, how minimal the physical impact of the infection, or how intellectually prepared you may be, your need for counselling and support will be great.

The psychological issues faced by most persons with HIV infection revolve around uncertainty. Your future hopes and expectations, your relationships and your career will all require some adjustment in order for you to cope with your illness and lead a happy, productive life.

The impact on your health

The impact to your health is likely to depend on the stage of infection you have reached when you discover you are HIV-positive, the psychological support available to you, and your access to good medical care.

Soon after becoming infected with the virus, some people experience a brief flu-like illness with fever, swollen lymph glands, skin rash or cough. You may then remain perfectly fit and healthy for many years despite being infected. For approximately 50 percent of infected persons, the time between becoming infected and the appearance of the opportunistic infections that characterize AIDS is more than 10 years.

Antiretroviral combination therapy, while expensive, has been shown to slow the onset of AIDS and prolong life expectancy. Your quality of life could also be improved by the preventive and therapeutic use of drugs that fight off common opportunistic infections and other diseases to which HIV-infected person are vulnerable, such as tuberculosis. Active TB screening and contact tracing through sputum examination are also important for families with an HIV-positive member.

In addition to good medical care, psychological support from family, friends and counselling is critical. In many countries, there are support groups made up of persons living with HIV and AIDS. There are also numerous support groups and resources to be found on the Internet.

The impact on your personal relationships

Partners are likely to suffer the consequences of HIV infection and disease as much as the infected person, albeit indirectly. This is so even if partners know that they are not HIV-infected themselves. Their lives are likely to experience the same kind of pressures and upheavals, and they can experience similar feelings of uncertainty, grief, loss and anger.

Communication between the two partners and between partners and professional counsellors is important to foster understanding of the adjustments that will be needed. For example, adjustments in sexual behaviour are necessary to stop further transmission of infection. Counselling can also address the physical and psychological changes and needs that the partners will experience.

If you have HIV, you have an opportunity to make others more aware of the disease. By educating others, you may decrease the prejudice against persons with HIV or AIDS. However, consider carefully to whom you reveal your HIV status. Misunderstanding and discrimination do exist, and can affect you and the ones you love. Again, professional counselling can help with these issues.

Often, families are the main source of care and support for HIV-infected persons, and the type of care required may change depending on the stage of the infection. Counselling for family members, both as individuals and as the family unit, can be very important, particularly as the disease progresses.

The impact on your work life

How your work life is impacted will depend on how you feel physically and mentally, and at what stage your infection is discovered. Experience has shown that persons with HIV infection, with or without symptoms, should keep working as long as possible. After the initial period of coming to terms with HIV infection, there usually comes a period of wanting to move on with life and work can be an important part of this transition.

Although you are not obliged to inform your employer and colleagues of your HIV status, certain circumstances may make it necessary for you to do so. If your job calls for you to travel, for example, you may need to go to countries where entry depends on a certificate that shows you are not HIV-infected. In addition, you may require certain vaccinations. Theoretically, you could become infected by the "live" but weakened pathogens in certain vaccines, particularly if your immune system has already been damaged by HIV. It is always best to consult your physician to determine the risks involved with vaccines or if alternatives exist.

Also, turn to pages Being tested for more information on recommendations regarding AIDS and the workplace.

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