An HIV diagnosis can feel overwhelming and daunting, but with today’s modern medicine, it doesn’t have to be. In the past, those diagnosed with HIV may have feared living a life in isolation. However, advancements in medicine and societal perceptions of this virus have created a safe space for those with HIV and, with the proper medical and emotional treatment, an opportunity to live a long and happy life.
HIV is a chronic health condition that attacks the immune system causing patients to be more vulnerable to certain infections. One of the most important components of our immune systems are T-cells, which are used to fight off bacteria, viruses, infections and other unwanted invaders.
However, when HIV enters the body the virus attacks these cells lowering the number in your body, like a wall slowly being chipped away. Without treatment, the number of T-cells will continue to drop giving infections that would otherwise be harmless more opportunities to do lasting damage.
HIV cannot be cured, but it can -and must- be treated. When it is not treated, the number of T-cells will fall too low causing HIV to transition into Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which will lead to more serious illness and even death.
HIV makes you vulnerable to other illnesses, making symptoms for HIV easy to confuse with another disease. It is crucial for those in high-risk groups to get tested regularly.
The meaning of living with HIV has changed for the better. But what it means to live well with HIV is a different story, often unconsidered.
Symptoms of HIV can vary from person to person and will depend on the phase of the disease.
There are three main stages of HIV: acute, asymptomatic, and symptomatic/AIDS. In only two of these will you experience any symptoms:
This stage occurs in the first 2-4 weeks after the virus enters your body.
If HIV is left untreated, symptoms will return and eventually progress to AIDS.
Even with symptoms, the only way to truly know if you have the virus is to get tested. If you or a loved one is interested in taking a test there are two important things to know:
There are three types of tests available to you:
Antigen & antibody test
What is it?
This test is used to detect the genetic material of HIV, which is called RNA. This test can detect the virus extremely early on and is also very accurate. However, they can be expensive and time/labour-intensive. it is also usually not used unless someone is experiencing severe symptoms or is in a high-risk group.
Antigen & antibody test
Looks for specific proteins and molecules that are produced when HIV is present. This is usually a blood test and can be done by drawing a full blood sample, or as a "rapid test" by pricking the finger.
Only looks for certain proteins in the bloodstream. All at-home tests, and most rapid tests, fall under this category and are taken by pricking the finger or swabbing the inside of your mouth.
One to four weeks after exposure
Antigen & antibody test
18-45 days after exposure
(rapid tests will take 18-90 days)
23-90 days after exposure
Around 38 million people globally live with HIV, with slightly less than 2.13 million living in Europe.
Since the virus first appeared in 1959, scientists have been able to pinpoint specific ways people can be exposed to this virus, helping others lessen their risk. HIV is contracted through contact with certain bodily fluids — specifically: blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal and vaginal fluids, and breast milk. You cannot spread the virus through coughing, sneezing, sweating, or simply touching someone else.
There are four common ways that people contract HIV: having sex without a condom, sharing needles, receiving a contaminated blood transfusion, or, in some cases, having it passed in the womb or through breast milk.
While anyone can get HIV, some groups are at a higher risk for contracting the virus than others and should consider more regular testing and prevention methods, including:
Those with HIV and AIDS today are living with greater odds for a chance at a long and normal life than ever before. The number of deaths from AIDS has declined 60% since its global highpoint in 2004 and the number of people with access to the treatment they need has risen 67%. It has also been found that the life expectancy of those who have HIV is very similar to those who do not.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for HIV right now, but there are many treatments available that let you live and love safely, without worrying about transmitting the virus to someone you care about.
For those groups that are more likely to be exposed there are two types of medications that can help prevent catching HIV:
Imagining a life with HIV can seem impossible, but with today’s breakthroughs in modern medicine, many go on to pursue their passions, start families and experience life without ever showing symptoms of the virus again. The name for HIV treatment is antiretroviral treatment, or ART, and is a combination of drugs used to lower the amount of the virus in your body. Preventing HIV from becoming AIDS is possible, but patients need to be treated regularly, which can be difficult. HIV treatment is a long-term solution, but by sticking to a regimen, patients can continue to flourish as they did before their diagnosis.
The side effects that come with ART are mostly mild, if any. The most common ones associated with ART are nausea or diarrhoea.
ART consists of a combination of drugs taken as a pill or as a long-acting injectable regime, which can make treatment as easy as adding one more daily routine in the morning. With ART, you can remain asymptomatic, or your virus undetectable, which means the virus cannot be detected by routine tests. It also means you cannot pass the virus to someone who is HIV-negative.
An HIV positive diagnosis can be ground-shaking, both for the patient and their loved ones. When supporting a loved one who has been diagnosed it is important to be open, empathetic, and communicative. In the early decades of the epidemic, those with HIV diagnoses were often avoided at all costs, creating a dangerous atmosphere that would cause many to go on untreated.
With more and better tolerated treatments available now to help people with HIV live normal lives – as long as they feel comfortable asking for help – caregivers and loved ones must reinforce that this journey is one they will not have to walk alone.
It is okay to feel anxious or apprehensive as the spouse, partner, or loved one of someone with HIV. Like any partnership, it’s important to communicate openly about these feelings and have conversations about what life will look like in 5, 10, or 20 years from diagnosis. Thanks to scientific innovation, the mysteries that once shrouded this virus have been pulled away. Take this opportunity to learn together and create a plan to live life responsibly, safely, and happily.
The list below includes example questions to help start a conversation with your health care provider. There may be other relevant questions based on your symptoms, stage, and medical history that are not listed here.
Janssen is committed to finding breakthrough treatments and an eventual cure for HIV and AIDS. Through global partnerships and scientific advancements, Janssen is focusing on new preventative vaccine regimens and treatments.
At Janssen, our teams are working tirelessly not only to develop new, innovative approaches to medicine, but also to spread treatment accessibility to HIV positive people in impoverished or underserved nations, and to continue to end the stigmas associated with this now manageable viral condition. We’ve already changed the face of HIV and we can change it again.
This website is developed exclusively by Janssen Pharmaceutica NV. Please note that the patient advocacy groups, and external sources listed below are an additional and independent source of information you might find useful. These groups and sources were not involved in the creation of this website and do not endorse its content in any way.
December 1st is World AIDS Day, a time to show solidarity with the millions of people who live with HIV and AIDS every day in an effort to end the stigmas associated with this condition. See how you can donate or get involved in your community this year.