Being diagnosed with HIV can be alarming and incredibly upsetting, but with proper care and treatment, you can live a long and healthy life. This is not to say that living with HIV doesn’t come with challenges, but it is no longer the death sentence it was once perceived to be. If you’re newly diagnosed with HIV it is important to seek medical care immediately. Regardless of whether you have health insurance, there are affordable options for treatment and Big Bend Cares is here to help you find care. Once you are in care, your doctor will prescribe an HIV medication regimen that will work for you and help to keep you healthy. Newly diagnosed patients may have several concerns, such as affording medications and finding community resources. Big Bend Cares can assist to make sure you are connected to the right medical providers and resources; we can help with transportation to medical appointments; and we can ensure that you have access to affordable medications.
Here are some frequently asked and answered questions if you are newly diagnosed as having HIV/AIDS:
- What does being HIV positive mean?
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, which is the virus that causes AIDS. If you are HIV-positive, it means you have this virus, and you are capable of giving it to others. It does not mean you have AIDS! The HIV virus kills a type of white blood cell that helps your body fight disease. Once you have HIV it never goes away, but it can be treated to help you live longer and keep you healthier. In fact, taking your antiretroviral therapy medications as prescribed can reduce the amount of HIV in your blood to levels that are undetectable. Continuing to take HIV medications as directed is necessary to achieve viral suppression and to remain undetectable.
- What does having AIDS mean?
AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. It means that your body can no longer fight off disease. This might put you at risk for infections and even some types of cancer. AIDS is the last stage of HIV infection.
- How do you get HIV or AIDS?
Having sex without wearing a condom is one of the most common ways to become infected with HIV/AIDS. Using condoms is important with any sexual partner whose HIV test results you don’t know. Oral sex without a condom, especially if there are mouth sores or cuts, can also pass along HIV. However know that condoms are not foolproof and in a small number of cases, the disease is passed on even while using them. Other ways to get the virus include using the same IV drug needle as someone who has HIV/AIDS, and blood transfusions with blood that contains the virus. Both women and men can pass on the disease through sexual contact. It can also be passed from mother to child while she is pregnant or breastfeeding. But, you cannot get HIV/AIDS from an infected person’s tears or saliva.
- Is there any way to prevent HIV/AIDS?
Abstinence (not having sex) prevents you from getting HIV through sexual contact. Condoms also help protect you if you are sexual active. And if you’re an IV drug user, always using clean needles helps prevent the spread of HIV. There is also PrEP and PEP – both of which can prevent the virus but they require a doctor’s prescription. PrEP stands for “pre-exposure prophylaxis.” If you are at high risk of HIV exposure, a doctor might recommend PrEP which is a program that includes taking specific drugs to fight HIV, even though you now test negative for the virus. PEP stands for “post- exposure prophylaxis.” It means going on anti-HIV drugs within 72 hours of exposure to HIV/AIDS. PEP treatment lasts 28 days.
- How long will I live if I am HIV/AIDS positive?
Studies have shown that with proper care and adherence to treatment, people living with HIV, once they achieve and maintain immune suppression, can live a normal life span. The emphasis for achieving a normal life expectancy is getting to treatment as early as possible and staying in treatment.
- Where do I get tested for HIV/AIDS and how much does it cost?
HIV testing is free and offered by Big Bend Cares at the Care Point Health & Wellness Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Call 850-354-8765 (Care Point Health & Wellness Center) and ask to be scheduled for an HIV test. We offer in-house rapid HIV testing and you will know results within 20 minutes.
- What do HIV test results mean?
If your body is trying to fight HIV, your blood or saliva sample will show it a couple of ways. The first is your CD4 count, which is a measure of the white blood cells that HIV destroys. If these white blood cells dip below 200, you are considered to have AIDS. The second is your viral load, which shows how much HIV is in your blood. Both of these give your doctor information to help your body fight HIV and stay healthier.
- Will the HIV test tell me how I got the disease?
No, the test will only indicate if your body has HIV. It won’t tell you how you were exposed to the disease.
- What do I do if I test positive for HIV/AIDS?
The first thing to do is see a healthcare provider. Whoever gives you the test results will be able to refer you. Make an appointment as soon as possible so you can start working with the provider to keep yourself healthy and learn how to avoid passing on the infection. Your first meeting will help show what stage of the disease you are in, what the best medications are for you, and answer many of the questions you will have. Big Bend Cares can help you. Call us at 850-354-8765 and ask to speak with someone to enroll in Ryan White Services or apply online at the Florida Ryan White Portal by submitting the Eligibility Application form and the Initiation of Services form.
- I am undocumented. Will ICE be told where to find me?
No! Big Bend Cares does not provide this type of information to any immigration authority.
- How does HIV/AIDS affect our area?
• In 2020, 2111 people were living with HIV in Area 2B
• 74% were Black and 19% were White
• 70% were male at birth and 30% were female at birth
• 45% were older adults over 50 years of age
• 4% were youth between 13-24 years of age
• 50% were between 25-49 years of age
• In our area, the greatest risk factor for exposure to transmission is through risky sexual behavior although a significant number of cases are connected to intravenous drug use.
- Where can I find more information?
For more information go to: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/index.html