Many people worry that they will lose an important—or even their only—support system when they tell their intimate partners that they are HIV-positive. It’s perfectly normal to feel nervous, embarrassed, or even fearful of your partner’s reaction, which may be verbal or even physical.
Disclosure is a process, so it may take you several conversations. It’s possible that your spouse or partner’s reactions to learning your status may change as time goes by. To make the disclosure process as open as possible:
• Have your conversations in a safe and secure place. Choose a space that provides privacy, yet offers comfort and familiarity.
• Tell your spouse or partner that you have some important news to share.
• Be prepared to talk about your diagnosis in a clear way and provide basic information about what it means to live with HIV.
• Do not attempt to discuss your diagnosis if you feel you do not have a clear sense about what it means.
• It may be helpful to have some information, (printed material or websites) available to help with any questions your spouse or partner may have.
• Be prepared to explain that HIV can be contracted during unprotected sex and provide your partner with information about HIV testing and where he or she can get tested.
There are many things that you can do to help a friend or loved one who has been recently diagnosed with HIV:
• Talk. Be available to have open, honest conversations about HIV. Follow the lead of the person who is diagnosed with HIV. They may not always want to talk about it, or may not be ready. They may want to connect with you in the same ways they did before being diagnosed. Do things you did together before their diagnosis; talk about things you talked about before their diagnosis. Show them that you see them as the same person and that they are more than their diagnosis.
• Listen. Being diagnosed HIV is life-changing news. Listen to your loved one and offer your support. Reassure them that HIV is a manageable health condition. There are medicines that can treat HIV and help them stay healthy.
• Learn. Educate yourself about HIV: what it is, how it is transmitted, how it is treated, and how people can stay healthy while living with HIV. Having a solid understanding of HIV is a big step forward in supporting your loved one. This website is a good place to begin to familiarize yourself with HIV. Have these resources available for your newly diagnosed friend if they want them. Knowledge is empowering, but keep in mind that your friend may not want the information right away.
• Encourage treatment. Some people who are recently diagnosed may find it hard to take that first step to HIV treatment. Your support and assistance may be helpful. By getting linked to HIV medical care early, starting treatment with HIV medication (called antiretroviral therapy or ART), adhering to medication, and staying in care, people with HIV can keep the virus under control, and prevent their HIV infection from progressing to AIDS. Encourage your friend or loved one to get into treatment as soon as possible and help them find an HIV care provider.
• Support medication adherence. It is important for people living with HIV to take their HIV medication every day, exactly as prescribed. Ask your loved one what you can do to support them in establishing a medication routine and sticking to it. Also ask what other needs they might have and how you can help them stay healthy. Learn more about treatment adherence.
• Get support. Take care of yourself and get support if you need it. Turn to others for any questions, concerns, or anxieties you may have so that the person who is diagnosed can focus on taking care of their own health.
If you are the sexual partner of someone who has been diagnosed with HIV, you should also get tested so that you know your own HIV status. If you test negative, talk to your healthcare provider about PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), taking HIV medicine daily to prevent HIV infection. PrEP is recommended for people at high risk of HIV infection, including those who are in a long-term relationship with a partner who has HIV. If you test positive, get connected to HIV treatment and care as soon as possible.
More than a million people in the United States are living with HIV, so you may know someone who has the virus. If your friend, family member, or co-worker has been HIV-positive for some time and has just told you, here’s how you can be supportive:
• Acknowledge. If someone has disclosed their HIV status to you, thank them for trusting you with their private health information.
• Ask. If appropriate, ask if there’s anything that you can do to help them. One reason they may have chosen to disclose their status to you is that they need an ally or advocate, or they may need help with a particular issue or challenge.
• Reassure. Let the person know, through your words or actions, that their HIV status does not change your relationship.
• Learn. Educate yourself about HIV. Today, lots of people living with HIV are on ART and have the virus under control. Others are different stages of treatment and care. Don’t make assumptions and look to your friend for guidance.
HIV-related stigma and discrimination still persist everywhere even in United States and negatively affect the health and well-being of people living with HIV. You can play an important role in reducing stigma and discrimination by offering your support to people living with HIV and speaking out to correct myths and stereotypes that you hear from others in your community.
It is incredibly rare for HIV to be transmitted in a household setting. In a very few cases, HIV has been transmitted when there was unprotected contact between infected blood and broken skin or mucous membranes.
To prevent even such rare occurrences, you should take the following precautions when caring for someone living with HIV:
• Wear gloves if you are going to have contact with blood or other body fluids that could possibly contain visible blood, such as urine, feces, or vomit.
• Cover cuts, sores, or breaks in the skin with bandages. This applies to both you and the person living with HIV/AIDS.
• Wash your hands and other parts of your body immediately after contact with blood or other body fluids. Disinfect surfaces soiled with blood.
• Avoid practices that increase the likelihood of blood contact, such as sharing of razors and toothbrushes.
• Use needles and other sharp instruments only when medically necessary and handle them according to recommendations for healthcare settings. (Do not put caps back on needles by hand or remove needles from syringes. Dispose of needles in puncture-proof containers out of the reach of children and visitors.)