Just Diagnosed with HIV: What Now? 

If you’ve just been diagnosed with HIV, you’re probably wondering: What Now? AllLife provides this insider’s perspective on living with HIV.

Diagnosed with HIV

Being diagnosed with HIV in 2004 was a nightmare. There was so much ignorance and misinformation surrounding HIV, perpetuated by both the medical and public organisations. I was never offered pre or post-test counselling for my condition. Once diagnosed, I realised what a predicament others less fortunate to access online information and counselling services must be experiencing. Sadly, as no pre, or post counselling was on offer, it left me to gather information and find ways of dealing with my diagnosis myself. I put the lack of a counselling offer, unacceptable, I might add, down to the year 2004, when diagnosed, to ignorance and uncertainty by many medical professionals, on how to proceed during this early HIV period.

HIV counselling

I signed up for a Lay Counsellor and Victim Empowerment course, educating myself in the process and collecting information and skills to support others in the same predicament. Before testing for HIV it is essential to get pre-counselling and be well-informed of the reality and practicality of what a positive outcome holds. Post-counselling is equally important, as it informs you on what other resources are available and introduces ways of making lifestyle behavioural changes. 

Living with HIV

Once you are diagnosed HIV-positive and have received post counselling which includes a review of your health and medical history, a physical exam, and several lab tests, you will be another step closer to facing the world.Furthermore, your healthcare provider will explain the benefits of HIV treatment and discuss ways for you to reduce the risk of passing HIV to others. 

HIV medical tests

The next step will be to have your blood counts done so that your healthcare provider can help you start the medication to treat your HIV. This is called Anti-Retroviral therapy(ART) and you will be started on it as soon as possible. Treatment with HIV medication is recommended for all people with HIV, regardless of how long they have had HIV. 

Your blood count test will be done next and include some of the following:

  • Viral load: A viral load test measures the amount of HIV in the genetic material in a blood sample and indicates how much of the HIV virus is in your body. The test measures the number of HIV copies in a millilitre.
  • CD4 Count: The CD4 count test measures how many CD4 cells you have in your blood. These are a type of white blood cell called T cells.
  • Creatinine: Untreated HIV infection can lead to loss of lean body mass and result in reduced serum creatinine pool and the serum creatinine level, affecting your kidneys. 

Untreated HIV

If your HIV is left untreated, it can cause substantial weight loss, often accompanied by diarrhoea, prolonged weakness and fever. HIV can also cause neurological complications with symptoms such as confusion, forgetfulness, depression, anxiety and difficulty walking. I know this as I, due to lack of medical advice on starting my medication, experienced blackouts, hallucinations, and loss of memory, amongst other acquired health challenges.

Your HIV status

When coming to terms with your HIV-positive status, you may find yourself shifting from your ‘normal’ mindset to cope and implement new strategies to take control. Know that there are actions you can implement to cope with your diagnosis. You should consider the following tips for living with HIV: 

  • Talk to a counsellor or trusted friend. Try to have open, honest conversations about HIV, your feelings and your goals.
  • Educate yourself as much as you can with up-to-date information about the disease.
  • Being diagnosed with HIV is life-changing news. Listen and learn from people that are living openly with their HIV status.
  • Get moving and exercise for an hour at least 3 to 4 times a week, even if it is just walking.
  • Review your eating/diet habits and adjust accordingly. There is little or no need to change if you currently practise a healthy eating lifestyle.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Adhere strictly to your medical treatment.

A chronic condition can affect anyone. How you manage it is what makes the difference. You can get life cover of up to 1 million Rand for your chronic health condition and up to 10 million Rand if you are living with HIV. Contact AllLife for more information on how to secure your family’s future.