Do you have HIV or Aids-related questions? Feeling lonely or confused? Don’t despair! Dr Sindi answers your questions.
Dr Sindi answers your HIV/Aids-related questions
TESTED POSITIVE FOR HIV
Last month, I tested positive for HIV and I’m now on antiretroviral treatment (ARV). What other measures should I put in place so that I can live a long and healthy life?
Dear Anonymous: The most important thing is that you take your ARV treatment everyday.
This will lower your viral load – the number of HIV copies in your blood. It needs to be undetectable within 12 weeks of starting treatment. An undetectable viral load means that you are still living with HIV, but the virus is not multiplying. This gives your immune system a chance to get stronger. If your immune system is strong, then you can live a long and healthy life!
HIV EFFECTS ON THE BODY
I am an HIV-positive man, and I would like to know how this virus affects my body and immune system.
HIV affects the immune system, and the cells that it targets are the CD4 cells. These are the most important part of your immune system. HIV uses them to make copies
of itself, which are called the viral load. When you are infected, the most important thing is to start lifelong ARV treatment because it works by preventing HIV from making copies of itself inside the CD4 cells. The immune system then has a chance to get stronger. Taking your treatment properly ensures that your viral load is undetectable. Remember that being HIV positive is not a death sentence.
CONCERN ABOUT ARV TREATMENT
Before I tested positive for HIV and started taking ARVs, I was very sick. I’m concerned that I’m still sick even though I’m on treatment. Why am I not getting better? Anonymous
Dear Anonymous: Lifelong antiretroviral treatment has side effects. Most people feel them in the first 2–4 weeks. If you still feel unwell or become worse after that period, then you need to see a doctor. Before you start the treatment, doctors need to make sure that you do not have any opportunistic infections. These are infections you get when your CD4 count is very low. They are treated before starting treatment. Without this process, you might get sicker.
CONFUSED ABOUT DISCLOSING HIV STATUS
I am HIV positive and not sure whether to disclose my status or not. I’m afraid that I might be discriminated against. I don’t know what to do.
Dear Anonymous: HIV stigma and discrimination is a sad reality for people living with the virus. Disclosure is not easy, and it hurts when people start acting negatively towards you. I have a simple principle; you do not have to disclose to anyone but your sexual partner or partners. I recommend that you listen intently to how people comment on HIVrelated matters. Their comments will tell you whether they can be trusted with your status or not.
ABOUT DR SINDIDr Sindisiwe van Zyl is an HIV clinician and a patients’ rights activist. She regularly offers advice on her Twitter page. Follow her @sindivanzyl