What happens when you live with HIV for nine months?

You’ve been on ARV treatment for just 9 months, you may be surprised at how well you’re feeling.

life after 6 months of HIV diagnosis
At the last checkpoint in our support journey, you were six months into living with HIV and adjusting really well. If you consider that you’ve been on ARV treatment for just 9 months, you may be surprised at how well you’re feeling. By now, you have no side effects, and you’re feeling quite positive about the future.

As an HIV-positive person, you’re becoming an example to others, as you feel healthy, strong, and ready to take on the challenges of your life. Well done, we commend you on your resilience and your strength!

You’re HIV-positive, and you’re okay.

You’ve stuck to your ARV treatment plan, and adjusted to living with HIV. You’re feeling healthy, capable, and you’re making progress with your life. Studies have revealed that, when people with HIV start ARV treatment as early as possible, and stick to their treatment plan, their life expectancy ends up about the same as someone who is not HIV-positive.

It’s as simple as sticking to your treatment plan, committing to a healthy lifestyle, and making sure you make your health a priority. By now, you’re feeling better and that’s a great feeling!

Do you reflect on your progress as an HIV-positive person?

We’d like to suggest that you take a moment to yourself today. Reflect upon the experiences you’ve tackled over the last nine months, from the first day you were diagnosed with HIV, and right up until today. At first, you had so many questions, and were overwhelmed by information.

Nowadays, however, your HIV status is not your first thought every day. Instead, it’s become part of your life, and part of your living. You’re used to ensuring you take your ARV medication every day, and you keep your medical appointments.

You’ve become more aware of your body, and what your body needs to stay healthy, feel good, and keep moving. Give yourself a round of applause!

How to effectively monitor your health, considering HIV:

Since you started ARV treatment, you’ve been visiting your doctor or clinic for regular checkups and to replenish your supply of ARVs. Accessing medical care in this way is essential for maintaining your healthy lifestyle, and offers you an opportunity to check in with your medical provider, ask any important questions, and ensure you are progressing well. By now, so long as you continue to take your ARVs as prescribed, and have stuck closely to your treatment plan, your viral load will be undetectable, or close to undetectable.

Of course, if there are other health problems you are dealing with alongside your HIV diagnosis, this may be a little different for you. Remember these three things as you progress:

  • Everyone is different. How your body responds to ARV treatment may be different to the way other people’s bodies respond to it.
  • Your journey is your journey. While you may have met several people, through your support group or in other ways, who are also HIV-positive and on ARV treatment, your journey is your journey. That doesn’t mean you are alone in it; it simply means that you are taking control of your own life, and you don’t need to compare it with anyone else’s. You are doing well, and you are doing your best.
  • Celebrate your successes. When you were first diagnosed with HIV, you were unsure about the future. You had so many questions and it may have felt impossible to fully understand the information that came with your diagnosis. Nowadays, however, you’re living well with HIV. All you needed was time, information, support, and a solid treatment plan.

Does your ARV prescription change after nine months?

This depends entirely on your unique circumstances and how your doctor or clinic team has structured your treatment plan. When you started your ARV treatment plan, you may have been prescribed a particular course of ARVs, and then had to change to a second line of ARV treatment, due to side effects or for other medical reasons. If you’ve had your prescription adjusted at any time before, since your diagnosis, you may need to allow a full six months from that particular point in time, for the side effects to fully subside.

If that still doesn’t happen then you know what to do: speak to your doctor or clinic team about it. No matter which ARV treatment plan you are on, it is critically important to continue taking your ARV medication as and when prescribed, and to raise your concerns and observations with your healthcare provider. In South Africa, we recently introduced three new medications that can be used as part of the ARV treatment programmes: Tenofovir, Lamivudine and Dolutegravir (TLD).

These drugs offer new options to people starting, or continuing with, their ARV treatment programme. If you need more information on these medications, talk to your doctor or clinic sister, as they will advise you on their suitability for your health, body, and lifestyle.

How should you be feeling after taking ARVs for nine months?

If you’ve been disciplined, and you haven’t delayed or skipped any of your medication, by now your body should have almost fully adjusted. You should be feeling physically stronger, and notice that you don’t get secondary infections as often, or to the same extent of intensity that you once may have. Your ARV treatment is working with your immune system, toward an undetectable viral load.

What if your HIV viral load is undetectable after nine months?

An undetectable viral load is a sign that your ARV treatment programme is working, and helping your body to fend off the effects of HIV. When your body reaches the undetectable state, it means that the level of HIV in your blood is so low, that they cannot be detected in a normal blood test. Be careful and don’t judge yourself or freak out if your viral load isn’t yet undetectable – this depends entirely on the unique circumstances of your diagnosis and how you’ve been managing your treatment plan since then.

Does life go back to normal after nine months with HIV?

Of course, by now, you’ve adjusted to living with HIV, and are well into the routine and rhythm of ensuring you take your medication on time. It’s so important to maintain the healthier feeling you start to get after being disciplined about taking your medication. There are lots of people who take it for granted that once that healthy feeling comes along, that it’s ok to stop taking ARVs: please don’t do this!

No matter how you try to justify it and find ‘good reasons’ to stop taking your ARVs or change your treatment timing without speaking to your doctor or clinic team, the end result is always the same. Your viral load will climb again, and you will set yourself back on the road to living a long, healthy and happy life with the people who love and depend on you. Here at nine months in, it’s about building on the momentum you’ve created, and staying true to your goals for the rest of your life.

How will you get your ARVs if you move house or relocate?

In South Africa, you can access ARVs through the public healthcare system, or through the private healthcare system. Of course, if you started your ARV treatment through the public healthcare system, they are free for you and you should not have to pay to get your medication. If you are receiving your medication scripts from a doctor or private clinic, you will have to pay for them, and your medical aid may cover a portion of these costs, depending on your medical aid plan and agreed coverage.

If you rely on public healthcare facilities, you need to let your doctor, nurse or clinic team as soon as you know you’ll be moving or relocating. You may be assigned a different clinic that’s closer to your new home. If you’re moving outside of South Africa, the same thing applies, although people who retire or relocate for work purposes often get placed onto medical aid plans or are able to access private healthcare. If you’re emigrating, speak to your embassy or consulate administrator, or your new employer about healthcare benefits (remember that you’re still not legally obligated to disclose your HIV status wherever South African law applies, but be mindful of related laws where you may be going).

Big tip: your medical aid provider should offer an HIV care and treatment option. If you are not sure about your coverage, or the medical aid options available to you, call your medical aid provider or financial broker for advice. No matter how you are getting your ARVs, it’s vitally important that you stay on them.

What do you do if your dispensary runs out of your ARVs?

In South Africa there are sometimes delays in obtaining ARVs or distributing them to healthcare facilities. Sometimes, the drug manufacturers run out of important ingredients and are not able to manufacture enough to fulfill the demand for ARVs on time. Whatever the reasoning behind ARV stockouts, they can be worrying to contemplate and manage.

If you are faced with this situation, or are concerned about it happening in the future, ask your doctor or clinic team for advice and information on how their healthcare facility plans for, and manages, a stockout situation. Remember: your medical professional knows your medical needs best, so they are your first point of call when you have a query or concern related to your health and ARV treatment plan.

Why is it important to make sure you attend every medical appointment?

Even if you’re in the process of changing clinics or facilities and you get two appointments in a month, make sure you go to every appointment set by your doctor or clinic team. This is important because you will get more time to ask questions, get second opinions and learn about your body and its response to HIV and your treatment plan.

For every medical appointment you have, you should:

  • Bring all the medication you are taking, whether it is related to your HIV diagnosis or not: This will help your doctor or clinic sister make decisions around your medications, and ensure you remain healthy, and don’t have to deal with any drug interactions.
  • Take along your notebook: Even though you are nine months into your ARV treatment plan, you may still have some questions, or want to note your weight, blood pressure, or other health-related information. It’s helpful to know these things, so write them down.
  • Be honest: If you’ve accidentally skipped a day of your ARV treatment, or gone through a significant change in your life since you last saw them, your doctor or clinic team needs to know about it. No matter how strong you are, these things can affect your progress and your health.

What support is there for people living with HIV?

Of course, our one-year support journey is always available, as well as our dedicated HIV website. What matters most is that you understand how your ARVs work, how HIV functions inside your body, and that there is hope and a strong chance for you to live your best life.

If you haven’t already done so, now’s a good time to scout out support groups: virtual or physical. Check if your medical aid, clinic, doctor or local hospital offers any HIV counselling services, what costs there may be for you to cover, such as transport. Support groups are often so underrated, but there’s a lot of value you can gain from meeting other HIV-positive people.

You can learn from others as well as share your own experience. Sometimes, just talking can make you feel better, and to know that you’re not being judged in this environment will give you even greater comfort as time passes. Remember that it’s not legally required for you to disclose your status, so even if you join a support group, you don’t owe it to anyone in your life to tell them that you’re attending or depending on such a source to get by, and process your ‘new normal’.

Understand more about HIV and how to live a happy, healthy life with a positive status.

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Are there any other HIV support resources?

There’s no straightforward manual for living with HIV, because everyone is different, but you know now that you’re definitely not the only one making the journey. Finding the stories of others who have walked this journey before you is often quite helpful and inspirational. This interview with Jayden, as part of a series produced by Avert, has helped countless people along their way too. Here’s an excerpt from what he had to say about his journey of living with HIV:

“I had to come to terms with the fact that I am HIV-positive and work out how to deal with it my own way. Looking after my health meant that I had to learn how to love myself more than ever. I even told my family at the end of 2016. They were shocked but they support me 100%. The medication I am using helps me every day. I go every 6 months for a check-up and my health improves every time.”

How far along are you with your financial adjustments?

When you were at the six month milestone we discussed the importance of taking those first few steps toward thinking about your financial legacy and we answered some important questions about money, investments and insurance in the context of being HIV-positive. Planning your future, while considering your new reality as an HIV-positive person, is a serious step. Being HIV-positive doesn’t automatically mean that you’re going to let your family down.

How to approach life with HIV:

Your HIV status does not define your future. Instead, it’s given you the opportunity to reset and restart your life with new goals, new ambitions, and new ideas, or new versions and plans for those you may have already pinned your focus on. You’re ready for the next chapter of your life.

Now’s the time to rethink, and think bigger, about yourMedical Brief. 2019. High Prevalence Of ARV And TB Stockouts — SA Survey – Medical Brief. [online] Available at: <https://www.medicalbrief.co.za/archives/high-prevalence-arv-tb-stockouts-sa-survey/> [Accessed 30 October 2020]. life ahead. As you look towards the next milestone moment in your journey of living with HIV, we recommend you:

  • Start, or continue with your journal: Keeping a journal of your experiences enables you to process your emotions, plan effectively, and reflect upon your journey of living with HIV. If you haven’t started that journal yet, do it now. You’ll be amazed at just how much of an inspirational story you’re already living.
  • Think about your legacy: Almost everyone starts out wanting to change the world, shake up the planet, or to become a captain of their industry. But, not everyone gets to grow up and be a business tycoon. You are, however, responsible for your legacy. It’s time to take that stuff seriously, because every legacy matters.
  • Stand up for your story: There’s a famous phrase that states “comparison is the thief of joy.” Stop comparing your life and your legacy – and your journey of living with HIV – with other people’s stories and truths. Even within your support group, there will be people who make different choices. It doesn’t mean that you’re pressured to change the way of life that you’ve recognised works best for your health and inner peace.
  • Plan for the future: Now that you’re feeling healthy and strong, it’s time to plan for your future, and your family’s future. There is nothing stopping you from starting today, so make that call, write that email, or book an appointment to see your financial advisor.

Is HIV life cover a good decision right now?

The big thing about feeling better is this: you feel like you have options. You know you’re building your life for the future, and you know that you’re going to live well. Making sure your family is taken care of is important to you, and you’ve probably thought a little differently about the options available to you for life cover.

Life cover is the most unselfish purchase you can make, that proves to your family just how much they mean to you. Life cover will never be as cheap as it is today, which is why we recommend you at least get a quote, so you can start planning it into your monthly expenses. We at AllLife can help you get specialised HIV life cover, that’s designed to keep your legacy alive, and your family well-looked after.

Sources:

Anso, T., 2019. ARV Stockouts Putting Lives At Risk, Says SSP • Spotlight. [online] Spotlight. Available at: <https://www.spotlightnsp.co.za/2019/06/04/arv-stockouts-putting-lives-at-risk-says-ssp/> [Accessed 30 October 2020].

Avert. 2020. Adherence And Dealing With Side-Effects Of Antiretroviral Treatment For HIV. [online] Available at: <https://www.avert.org/living-with-hiv/monitoring-switching-treatment> [Accessed 30 October 2020].

Avert. 2020. Taking Care Of Yourself When Living With HIV. [online] Available at: <https://www.avert.org/living-with-hiv/health-wellbeing/taking-care-of-yourself> [Accessed 30 October 2020].

Avert. 2020. Jayden – My Six Rules For Living Happy With HIV. [online] Available at: <https://www.avert.org/hiv-testing/stories/Jayden> [Accessed 30 October 2020].

Avert. 2020. What Is An Undetectable Viral Load?. [online] Available at: <https://www.avert.org/living-with-hiv/antiretroviral-treatment/what-does-undetectable-mean> [Accessed 30 October 2020].

Bettercare. 2020. Management Of Patients On Antiretroviral Treatment. [online] Available at: <https://bettercare.co.za/learn/adult-hiv/text/05.html> [Accessed 30 October 2020].

CATIE. 2020. HIV Treatment And An Undetectable Viral Load To Prevent HIV Transmission. [online] Available at: <https://www.catie.ca/en/fact-sheets/transmission/hiv-viral-load-hiv-treatment-and-sexual-hiv-transmission> [Accessed 30 October 2020].

CDC. 2020. Treatment Of LTBI And TB For Persons With HIV. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/tb/topic/treatment/tbhiv.htm> [Accessed 30 October 2020].

Highleyman, L., 2013. HIV Monitoring Every Six Months Is Adequate For People On ART With Stable Viral Suppression. [online] NAM. Available at: <https://www.aidsmap.com/news/oct-2013/hiv-monitoring-every-six-months-adequate-people-art-stable-viral-suppression> [Accessed 30 October 2020].

HIV.gov. 2020. Seeing Your Health Care Provider. [online] Available at: <https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/staying-in-hiv-care/provider-visits-and-lab-test/seeing-your-health-care-provider> [Accessed 30 October 2020].

JORDAAN, N., 2019. Getting More People On Antiretrovirals Vital In Fight Against HIV/Aids: Parliament. [online] SowetanLIVE. Available at: <https://www.sowetanlive.co.za/news/south-africa/2019-12-01-getting-more-people-on-antiretrovirals-vital-in-fight-against-hivaids-parliament> [Accessed 30 October 2020].

Lopez Gonzalez, L., 2019. BHEKISISA: South Africa Delays Rollout Of New Blockbuster HIV Drug. [online] Daily Maverick. Available at: <https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2019-10-04-south-africa-delays-rollout-of-new-blockbuster-hiv-drug> [Accessed 30 October 2020].

Medical Brief. 2019. High Prevalence Of ARV And TB Stockouts — SA Survey – Medical Brief. [online] Available at: <https://www.medicalbrief.co.za/archives/high-prevalence-arv-tb-stockouts-sa-survey/> [Accessed 30 October 2020].

NCBI. 2010. WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE FIRST SIX MONTHS OF THERAPY. [online] Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK138583/> [Accessed 30 October 2020].

WebMD. 2019. What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of HIV Months To Years After Infection?. [online] Available at: <https://www.webmd.com/hiv-aids/qa/what-are-the-signs-and-symptoms-of-hiv-months-to-years-after-infection> [Accessed 30 October 2020].

We all have questions.

Below are some of the answers to the most common questions that you need to know.

What is usually the first sign of HIV?

After getting infected with HIV, most patients only experience moderate flu-like symptoms. Typically, the illness is sudden in onset and is characterised by fever, swelling of the lymph glands, a measles-like rash all over the body and ulcers in the mouth and sometimes on the genitalia.

What are the 4 stages of HIV?

  • Stage 1: Infection – Exposure to infected bodily fluids.
  • Stage 2: Asymptomatic – HIV quickly spreads and the patient becomes seropositive for HIV antibodies.
  • Stage 3: Symptomatic – The immune system is now engaged in a constant battle with the rapidly replicating virus.
  • Stage 4: AIDS – At this stage, the patient’s CD4+ count is 200 cells per mm3 or less.

How soon can HIV be detected by a blood test?

No test can detect HIV immediately after infection. The time between initial infection and a detectable viral load is called the window period. It can take anywhere from 2-12 weeks to after exposure detect whether you are HIV-positive or not, depending on which testing method is used.

How long does it take to show symptoms of HIV?

Following initial infection, there is a period of intense, unchecked viral replication that occurs. It usually takes two to four weeks after infection and can last about one to two weeks, after which there tends to be a slight recovery, and the infected individual is considered to be seropositive for HIV antibodies.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is transmitted from one person to another through the exchange of body fluids. The main method of transmission in South Africa is through unprotected sexual activity.

Does HIV test affect life insurance?

Being HIV-positive can affect standard life insurance policies, particularly if your status changes from HIV-negative to HIV-positive within a particular age range. That’s why AllLife covers all lives. Your HIV status doesn’t prevent you from getting cover with us.

Can HIV-positive women have children?

Yes, HIV-positive women can enjoy healthy pregnancies and give birth to healthy HIV-negative babies. Through the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme has been highly effective in reducing transmission risk to under 1%.

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