Two months into supporting someone who lives with HIV:

When your partner, friend, colleague or family member told you that he/she was HIV-positive, it may have been a total surprise. Supporting someone can be tough when you also have questions and feelings of your own to work through, so don’t hesitate to browse our dedicated website for HIV to find the answers and tips you need.

Supporting a loved one after getting HIV results

If you also got tested for HIV and your results came back positive, there are other resources you can use in our Just Diagnosed section, to help you work through this from the mindset of living with HIV directly.

Accept that HIV is part of reality:

Being part of someone’s life, whether as a colleague, friend, or a romantic partner, means that their HIV-positive status is also a part of your reality. Depending on when the person’s status was shared with you, you might still be feeling overwhelmed. If you’ve known for two months now, then it should be settling in and starting to feel like something you can support them through.

Adjusting to ARVs takes a different amount of time for everyone. If you notice that your friend/family member is still not feeling 100% by now, encourage them to go to the doctor, nurse or clinic again. You can tag along for moral support, if that works for the both of you.

How to respectfully talk about HIV:

If someone tells you that they are HIV-positive, it means that you are trusted and respected to hold this information. It’s common to have doubts about whether you can ask certain questions, but it’s healthy to talk to the person who has trusted you, to find out where the boundaries are. The most important thing to remember is that you’re not allowed to discuss that person’s HIV status with anybody else: it’s both illegal and breaches their trust.

Who can you talk to about someone else’s HIV status?

Everyone has the right to privacy. Nobody can be forced into sharing theirHIV status with you or with anyone else, and strict doctor-patient confidentiality applies at all times. If someone trusts you enough to tell you that they are HIV-positive, you are not allowed to discuss this information with anyone else, including that person’s spouse/partner or employer.

Deal with your own feelings about someone else’s HIV status:

It’s normal to experience unfamiliar or overwhelming emotions when someone tells you that they are HIV-positive. This is especially so when it’s your spouse/partner who you have an intimate relationship with. The diagnosis can change a lot of things about your relationship with that person, or even how you feel about yourself.

Remember that you’re not alone, though, and that HIV is now a manageable condition. You have the power to overcome the barriers you experience. For example, if fear or anxiety starts to set in, visit our website and choose one more article to read or subscribe to our YouTube channel and watch another video so you can learn more and confront that fear and anxiety directly.

Although you can’t talk to friends, family members or colleagues about the HIV status of someone else in your life, you are able to seek counselling services. This is recommended if you still feel stuck after trying a journal, or learning more about HIV. Doctor-patient confidentiality applies at all times, including during therapy or counselling sessions, so what you talk about during that time will remain safely in that space, so you can manage your emotions.

Understand more about HIV and how to live a happy, healthy life when you are HIV-positive. 

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How do you talk about HIV with your husband/wife/partner?

We know that this is one of the toughest realities for couples in South Africa to face. Your romantic relationship is undoubtedly affected by your spouse/partner being diagnosed as HIV-positive. If you haven’t been tested yet, yourself, it’s critical that you do so.

Whether it’s just your partner, or it’s both of you, living with HIV, there is a safe and responsible way to continue your intimate relationship with each other. It will involve something called Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, more commonly known as PrEP. You can read more about it in our dedicated articles on living with HIV.

Talking about HIV is healthy, between you and your partner, and it might mean talking about things like contraceptive methods, ARVs, PrEP and other things which you’ve never done together before. This is new territory for you both, and it may be worth seeking out joint counselling to learn how to manage this with mutual respect for each other. Creating an emotionally safe space in your relationship is important, so that both you and your partner can share feelings, invite feedback and discuss your new approach to your relationship.

If a third person knows too, can you both discuss it?

No, and especially not outside of the presence of the person who is HIV-positive, who has decided to trust both you and the third person. The only appropriate spaces in which you should be talking about someone’s HIV status is directly with that person, or in a closed counselling or therapy session if you need emotional or mental support with processing it.

Tips for talking about HIV:

Save or bookmark this article for the moments when the topic of HIV comes up in conversation. Be mindful that others may experience the subject differently from the way you do. Remember:

  • Everybody has the right to privacy. If you feel tension rising then you can respectfully remind others that privacy matters, and ask the HIV-positive person in your life if they are comfortable with sharing certain information, if asked.
  • Keep your contributions to the conversation simple and straightforward.
  • Learn the facts about HIV before making statements that might be polarising, or make other people feel less worthy. Being able to answer anyone else’s questions, including the HIV-positive person’s, with respect will strengthen your relationship/s.
  • Respectfully ask how treatment is going. Your HIV-positive friend/family member will appreciate you checking in, without you being too overbearing or giving him/her harsh instructions and ultimatums.
  • Give HIV-positive people a safe space to express their emotions around you, and let them know when you may need or want to do the same.
  • Be clear about what kind of support you can provide, or would like to receive.

We all have questions.

Below are some of the answers to the most common questions around HIV. 

What is usually the first sign of HIV?

After becoming 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, 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, to 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 2 to 4 weeks after infection and can last about 1 to 2 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. PMTCT has been highly effective in reducing the HIV transmission risk to under 1%.

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