Top 10 Things Everyone Should Know About HIV

Essential Facts to Help You Gain Control of Your Life and Good Health

Educating yourself about HIV is, without doubt, the most important way to stay healthy if you are HIV-positive or just trying to avoid infection. While modern therapies are far simpler than they've ever been — as easy as one pill per day — preventing, managing, and treating the disease takes more than just pills. It takes insight.

We'd like to offer the 10 things you can do today to ensure you remain happy, well, and productive for many years to come, whether you have HIV or not.

Start by Knowing the Signs and Symptoms

Man kissing woman on the head
Kristen Curette/Stocksy United

Understanding the signs and symptoms of HIV allows us to proactively treat (and even avoid) certain infections well before they occur. It's important to note, however, that there are often no symptoms at the onset of HIV infection, and that when symptoms finally do appear, it's often after the virus has caused irreparable damage to a person’s immune system.

Fear and misconceptions about HIV can often prevent people from seeking the treatment and care they need, with some misinterpreting the term "asymptomatic" as meaning "without infection." Others, meanwhile, ignore the early symptoms until they eventually subside, failing to realize that the abatement of short-term symptoms is neither an indication of improvement nor the "all clear" sign that an infection has been averted.

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Treating HIV on Diagnosis Extends Life Expectancy, Reduces Illness

Man taking medicine
Man taking medicine. Getty Images/BSIP/UIG/Universal Images Group

On Sept. 30, 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) revised its global HIV treatment guidelines to recommend the immediate initiation of antiretroviral therapy (ART) at the time of diagnosis.

Why? According to research from the landmark Strategic Timing of Antiretroviral Treatment (START) study, published in 2015, treatment on diagnosis not only confers to a greater likelihood of a normal life expectancy, it can reduce the risk of illness by more than 50 percent irrespective of income, race, geography, or immune status.

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HIV Testing Is for Everyone (That's Right, Everyone)

HIV-1 rapid fingerstick test. Image courtesy Alere, Inc.

Early diagnosis = early treatment = better health = longer life. The formula couldn't be simpler. Still, as many as 20-25 percent of the estimated 1.2 million Americans living with HIV remain undiagnosed.

In response, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued recommendations that all persons between the ages of 15 and 65 be screened for HIV as part of a routine doctor visit. The recommendations were made in line with evidence showing that early initiation of antiretroviral therapy will result in fewer HIV- and non-HIV-associated illnesses, as well as reduce the infectivity of a person with HIV.

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Concerned About Confidentiality? Consider an In-Home HIV Test

OraQuick HIV-1 Rapid Oral Test. Photo Credit: Getty Images

In July 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted approval to the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test, providing consumers with the first, over-the-counter oral HIV test able to provide confidential results in as little as 20 minutes. The FDA approval was welcomed by many community-based organizations, which have long cited the benefits of in-home testing at a time when 20 percent of the 1.2 million Americans infected with HIV are fully unaware of their status.

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HIV Therapy Can Reduce Risk of Transmission by 96%

Treatment as Prevention (or TasP) is an evidence-based approach by which HIV-infected persons with an undetectable viral load are far less likely to transmit the virus to an uninfected (or untreated) partner.

Clinical research has shown that TasP can significantly reduce the risk of HIV infection in mixed-status (serodiscordant) couples by lowering the infectivity of the HIV-infected partner by ensuring a sustained and complete viral suppression.

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Want to Avoid Getting Infected? PrEP Can Help

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Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is an HIV prevention strategy whereby the daily use of antiretroviral medication is known to significantly reduce a person's risk of acquiring HIV by anywhere 75-92 percent. The evidence-based approach is considered an important part of an overall HIV prevention strategy, which includes the continued consistent use of condoms and a reduction in the number of sexual partners. PrEP is not intended to be used in isolation.

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Should I Be Taking PreP?

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Photographs © Julien Haler

HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is considered a landmark strategy to preventing the acquisition of HIV in a non-infected individual. But is it right for everyone?

On May 14, 2104, tthe U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) released its updated clinical practice guidelines calling for the daily use of PrEP in the HIV-negative individuals considered at "substantial" risk of infection.

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Yes, You Can Have a Baby... Even If Your Partner is Negative

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Photograph © Tatiana Vdb

According to the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), nearly half of all HIV-affected couples in the world are serodiscordant, meaning that one partner is HIV-positive while the other is HIV-negative. In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that there are today over 140,000 serordiscordant heterosexual couples, a great many of whom are of child-bearing age.

With major advances in antiretroviral therapy (ART), as well as other preventative interventions, serodiscordant couples have far greater opportunities to conceive than ever before — allowing for pregnancy while minimizing the risk of transmission to both the child and uninfected partner.

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Don't Forget Condoms (Really, Don't)

Man opening condom
Science Photo Library - IAN HOOTON/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Despite this being an age where HIV drugs are known to reduce the risk of transmission, both for uninfected people and those living with the disease, one fact remains irrefutable: short of abstinence, condoms remain the single most effective means of preventing HIV today.

While study models vary, most research indicates that condoms can reduce the risk of HIV anywhere from 80 percent to 93 percent. By comparison, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can reduce transmission risk by between 62 percent and 75 percent, while treatment as prevention (TasP) — using antiretroviral therapy to reduce the infectivity of an HIV-positive person — has been shown to be an effective means to reduce infection risk within the constraints of a mixed-status (serodiscordant) relationship.

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Trouble Paying for Your HIV Medications? Get Help

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Photograph © StockMonkeys/Chris Potter

While access to treatment has increased for people living with HIV since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2014, the cost of antiretroviral therapy remains a challenge—even a barrier—for many. According to the non-profit Fair Pricing Coalition (FPC), some insurers have tried to skirt the law by making HIV drugs either unavailable or more expensive than other chronic medications prescribed as essential by the ACA.

In the effort to ensure affordable access, the FDC has negotiated co-pay and patient assistance programs (PAPs) with most every HIV drug manufacturers. Both programs provide assistance to patients who meet eligibility criteria based on the annually updated Federal Poverty Level (or FPL).

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