HIV: The Facts

Living with HIV has changed.

Today, thanks to innovations in antiretroviral treatment (ART), HIV is now a manageable long-term health condition.1 There’s now a wealth of useful information and resources available, too, as well as lots of places to find the support, community and inspiration you need.

By learning what there is to know about HIV and how it can affect you both physically and mentally, you can stay in control and feel empowered to make informed decisions about your health and care.

HEALTH, WELLBEING AND HIV

HIV is a virus that targets the immune system – the body’s natural defences. Thankfully, there are now a lot of HIV treatment options available that can help you manage the condition and lead a long, happy, and healthy life.1

Things can move quickly after your diagnosis and it can be a lot to deal with, which makes looking after your wellbeing even more important. As well as taking steps to learn more information about HIV and manage your condition, opening up to a friend or reaching out to a community of experienced peers can help you regain some balance and feel more in control.

Useful HIV treatment terms

When it comes to HIV treatment options, knowing some basic terms can be helpful.

Click on these phrases to learn more about them.

  • CD4 T-cell count

    CD4 T-cells are very important cells found in your body. They are white blood cells that help keep your immune system strong so you can fight infections.

    HIV targets CD4 T-cells which can affect the strength of your immune system's ability to fight off infection. Without treatment, HIV targets more of these important cells, meaning you will have fewer CD4 T-cells to help keep you healthy.2

    The CD4 T-cell count looks at the number of T-cells in your blood. This is how your healthcare team assesses the impact HIV is having in your body.3

  • Viral load

    Your viral load is the amount of HIV virus copies found in your blood. You want your viral load to be as low as possible.

  • Antiretroviral Therapy (ART)

    Medicines used to treat HIV are called antiretrovirals. Using a combination of HIV medicines together is called antiretroviral therapy (ART).

  • Single-tablet regimen (STR)

    This is a complete treatment regimen consisting of a combination of antiretroviral medications in one single tablet.

  • Undetectable¹

    If your viral load is very low, it may be described as “undetectable”1. An undetectable viral load generally means there are less than 50 copies of HIV-1 RNA per millilitre of blood.4

    When a person living with HIV is on effective medication with an undetectable viral load, they cannot pass on HIV to their sexual partners.5,6 This is widely known as Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U).

    With effective HIV treatment and the support of your healthcare team, most people living with HIV can reach an undetectable viral load. But remember, even once you’ve achieved an undetectable viral load, you still need to keep taking your medicine, attend regular check-ups with your healthcare team, follow safe-sex practices and avoid needle sharing.1

    Learn more about the powerful message of U=U.

  • Adherence⁷

    This means taking your medication exactly as prescribed. Achieving an undetectable viral load relies on having good adherence.

  • Knowing your numbers

    Your CD4 T-cell count and viral load can go up and down depending on how well your body is responding to treatment. That’s why it’s so important to go to regular health check-ups – so your healthcare team can keep an eye on your progress.

    To check your numbers, they will do a few lab tests during your appointments. This is typically completed once every 3-6 months during the first 2 years of starting medication. If your viral load maintains an undetectable level, they may measure them less often.8

HIV and your mind

Being diagnosed with HIV can come as a real shock and with all the different thoughts that come with diagnosis, it’s likely to have an impact on your mental health.9 So, take a few deep breaths and remember, you’ve got this.

HIV and your mind
HIV and your mind

To help set you on the road to a healthy life with HIV, it’s important that you look after your emotional wellbeing. It’s just as important as your physical health. Be kind to your mind and remember there’s lots of resources and support out there – all you need to do is find the option that’s right for you.

To learn more about how living with HIV can impact your mental health and discover tips on taking care of your emotional wellbeing, visit Mental Health & HIV.

Discover more

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LIVING WITH HIV HAS CHANGED

HIV doesn’t have to hold you back. Today, thanks to innovative treatments innovative HIV treatments, a person living with HIV can expect to live a long and full, healthy life.10 HIV is now a manageable condition that won’t stop you from living your life on your terms.

But remember, feeling empowered to make your own choices about your condition doesn’t mean you have to face HIV alone. There are HIV positive communities waiting to help you on your journey.

“You learned a lot of how to face challenges, and how to overcome challenges. And so, looking back, I say not only am I a survivor, I’m a pretty good survivor, and I’m thriving on my experience.”

Listen to the “A World of Difference” episode of the Positively Thriving podcast where Bryan, Brad and Tom share their contrasting experiences of living with HIV and discuss peer support, family and the importance of looking after yourself.

 

The power of peer support

Support from peers and community organisations can help you build confidence and discover what you need to know about HIV.

90% of people living with HIV actively seek out support at diagnosis11 and it can be a wonderful source of community and friendship. Being able to talk to someone who understands what you’re going through can help ease any concerns you may have and feel empowered in your care.

How can HIV treatment help?

89% of people living with HIV feel that treatment will improve their quality of life11, 12 – and research shows that the sooner you start to take HIV treatment, the sooner you can benefit from it.13 However, it’s important that you feel ready and work with your healthcare team to find the right treatment option for you. One key benefit of taking HIV treatment is becoming undetectable. This fact can be a real boost to both your physical and mental health.

Find out more about managing your HIV treatment and working with your doctor to find an option that’s a good fit for you and your lifestyle.

Your healthcare team is here to help

It can feel daunting stepping into a doctor’s surgery or clinic, but it’s important to be as open and honest as possible with your healthcare team so they can better support you in finding the HIV treatment that’s right for you

The Positive Perspectives study found that people living with HIV who reported high engagement with their healthcare teams were more satisfied with their HIV treatment and were healthier overall:14

High engagement
High engagement
High engagement"
High engagement
High engagement

Speaking regularly with your healthcare team is one of the best ways to keep you moving forward. It can also help you feel more confident discussing the issues that are important to you.15 Together you can decide on a plan that’s best for you and your future health.

Find out how open communication about the things that matter to you (e.g. adherence, side effects, or mental health issues) and building a strong relationship with your healthcare team can benefit you and your overall health.

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HIV SUPPORT GROUPS AND RESOURCES

As well as talking to your healthcare team, here are some resources available online that offer a wealth of advice and support. Take a look at the websites below to learn more.

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AVERT

AVERT is a UK-based charity providing tailored and trusted information about HIV and sexual health to people living with HIV and healthcare professionals.

 

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Beyondpositive

Beyondpositive offers advice and information on lifestyle, mental and physical health and treatment. They also share the latest news in HIV, as well as personal stories from the HIV community.
 

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HIV i-base icon

HIV i-base

HIV i-base are a treatment activist group providing up-to-date, medically-reviewed guides and resources, in addition to a Q&A service. All their materials are developed with and by people living with HIV.
 

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NAM Aidsmap

NAM Aidsmap provides a wealth of clear, independent and accurate information on several topics such as HIV testing and monitoring health, treatment, social and legal issues, transmission and prevention, living well and general facts about HIV and AIDS.
 

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The National AIDS Trust

The National AIDS Trust advocate and campaign on behalf of people living with HIV across the UK. They provide guides covering advice about your rights on a range of subjects from employment and job applications to immigration and confidentiality.
 

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Terrence Higgins Trust icon

The Terrence Higgins Trust

The Terrence Higgins Trust are the UK's leading HIV and sexual health charity. They provide information and support on a range of topics from HIV testing and treatment to travelling with HIV.
 

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HIV: The Facts
HIV: The Facts

WHAT'S NEXT?

There’s no right or wrong way to respond to an HIV diagnosis. It can spark a whole range of emotions: shock, anger, sadness, and everything in between. But remember, you’re not alone.

Understanding the different types of HIV medications available to you can make it easier to talk to your doctor about your treatment options.

Working together with your healthcare team to understand what's going on within your body may be the best way to get the most from your HIV care.

References:

  1. National Health Service. HIV and AIDS. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hiv-and-aids/. [Accessed September 2021]
  2. British Society for Immunology. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Available at: https://www.immunology.org/public-information/bitesized-immunology/pathogens-and-disease/human-immunodeficiency-virus-hiv. [Accessed November 2021].
  3. US National Institutes of Health. HIV/AIDS Glossary. CD4 count. Available at: https://clinicalinfo.hiv.gov/en/glossary/cd4-count. [Accessed November 2021].
  4. George House Trust. About HIV. Available at: https://ght.org.uk/tags/about-hiv-1. [Accessed November 2021].
  5. Rodger AJ, et al. JAMA. 2016;316:171–181.
  6. NAM AIDSMAP. What does undetectable = untransmittable (U=U) mean?. Available at: https://www.aidsmap.com/about-hiv/what-does-undetectable-untransmittable-uu-mean [Accessed September 2021].
  7. HIV/AIDs Glossary. Adherence. Available at: https://clinicalinfo.hiv.gov/en/glossary/adherence. [Accessed September 2021].
  8. US Department of Veterans Affairs. HIV. CD4 count (or T-cell count). Available at: https://www.hiv.va.gov/patient/diagnosis/labs-CD4-count.asp. [Accessed November 2021].
  9. Uthman OA, et al. Curr HIV/AIDS Rep. 2014;11: 291–307.
  10. Life expectancy for people with HIV. Available at: https://www.aidsmap.com/about-hiv/life-expectancy-people-living-hiv [Accessed September 2021].
  11. ViiV Healthcare. Positive Perspectives Survey. 2017. Available at: https://edgesuite.gskstatic.com/Viiv/viivhealthcare/pdf_files/master/main/positive-perspectives-survey-report-finalcompressed.pdf [Accessed September 2021]. 
  12. Murungi A, et al. Experience of living with HIV: Diagnosis & Disclosure – findings from the Positive Perspectives study. Presented at the IAS Conference on HIV Science (IAS 2017), 23 26 July 2017, Paris, France. Abstract: WEPED1423.
  13. NAM AIDSMAP. Starting HIV Treatment. Available at: https://www.aidsmap.com/about-hiv/starting-hiv-treatment. [Accessed September 2021].
  14. Okoli C, et al. Poster presented at the 23rd International AIDS Conference; 2020; July 6-10. Poster PED 0808.
  15. ViiV Healthcare. Positive Perspectives Survey 2017. Available at: https://viivhealthcare.com/en-gb/hiv-treatment-and-care/the-positive-perspectives-survey/ [Accessed: September 2021].

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