Today, an estimated 1.2 million people are living with HIV in the United States. Thanks to better treatments, people with HIV are now living longer—and with a better quality of life—than ever before. If you are living with HIV, it's important to make choices that keep you healthy and protect others.
It's very important for you to take your HIV medicines exactly as directed. Not taking medications correctly may lower the level of immune system defenders called CD4 cells and cause the level of virus in your blood (viral load) to go up. The medicines then become less effective when taken. Some people report not feeling well as a reason for stopping their medication or not taking it as prescribed. Tell your doctor if your medicines are making you sick. He or she may be able to help you deal with side effects so you can feel better. Don't just stop taking your medicines, because your health depends on it.
Be sure that your partner or partners know that you have HIV. Then they will know it's important to use condoms for all sexual activity and to be tested often for HIV. Health departments offer Partner Services to help you tell your partners about their exposure. Partner Services provides many free services to people with HIV or other STDs and their partners. Through Partner Services, health department staff help find sex or drug-injection partners to let them know of their risk of being exposed to HIV or another sexually transmitted disease (STD) and provide them with testing, counseling, and referrals for other services. Partner Services will not reveal your name unless you want to work with them to tell your partners.
HIV is spread through body fluids such as blood, semen (cum), vaginal fluids, and breast milk. In the United States, HIV is most commonly passed from one person to another through unprotected anal or vaginal sex and through sharing needles or other drug equipment. In addition, a mother can pass HIV to her baby during pregnancy, during labor, through breastfeeding, or if by pre-chewing her baby's food.
Viral load can range from undetectable levels of 40 to 75 copies per milliliter of blood to millions of copies. The higher your viral load, the greater the risk of spreading HIV to others. Protect your partners by keeping yourself healthy. Take all of your medicines and get tested and treated for other STDs. If you have HIV plus another STD or hepatitis, you are 3 to 5 times more likely to spread HIV than if you only have HIV. Your viral load goes up and your CD4 count goes down when you have an STD.
Although having a low viral load greatly decreases your chance of spreading HIV, some risk remains, even when your viral load is lower than 3,500 copies per milliliter. You can avoid spreading the virus to others by making sure they do not come into contact with your body ﬂuids.
Abstinence (not having sex) is the best way to prevent the spread of HIV infection and some other STDs. If abstinence is not possible, use condoms whenever you have sex—vaginal, anal, or oral.
Do not share drug equipment. Blood can get into needles, syringes, and other equipment. If the blood has HIV in it, the infection can be spread to the next user.
Do not share items that may have your blood on them, such as razors or toothbrushes.