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Whether you have been newly diagnosed or have known for a while, it can be difficult to tell others that you are HIV positive. You may worry about how others will react or if they will treat you differently.
However, it is important to share your HIV status. Your friends and family members are providing the support you need, says Marguerita Lightfoot, PhD, director of the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California School of Medicine at San Francisco. They relieve you of the burden of keeping a secret and give you a shoulder to lean on. Or they can help with physical tasks, e.g. B. when driving to the doctor’s office.
Most of the time, deciding who to tell is a personal choice, Lightfoot says. You are in control of how and when you share the news.
Who do I have to tell?
In many states, you are required by law to notify people with whom you may share bodily fluids, such as sexual partners. Rules vary by state and in some cases there are federal regulations (e.g. if you want to donate blood). So you should check with your doctor or social worker.
- sexual partners. You should tell any sexual partner before having oral, vaginal, or anal sex. You should also notify previous partners within a reasonable amount of time, says Jeffrey T. Kirchner, DO, chief medical officer of the American Academy of HIV Medicine. “Your doctor can estimate roughly how long you have had HIV.”
- Needle sharing partner. If you are a drug user, you should tell everyone you share needles with.
- bloodtissue, organ or seed donation employee. You should disclose your HIV status before donating. In some cases this may not be allowed. For example, anyone who has ever tested positive for HIV is not allowed to donate blood.
- doctors and dentists. By letting your healthcare providers know, they can provide you with the best care. For example, they will not prescribe any medication that might interact with your HIV medication. Healthcare professionals are bound by data protection regulations. You must not disclose your HIV status unless it would harm another person. Some states require that you notify a doctor or dentist before they treat you. Therefore, you should check the laws in your state before seeking health care.
You don’t have to say anything to your boss or your colleagues, says Kirchner. The exception is if you have a job that may expose others to the virus, such as a surgeon.
Along with your doctor, you should also talk to your psychiatrist, such as B. a therapist, says Lightfoot. They can help you deal with the emotional impact of an HIV diagnosis.
Who should I tell?
The next step is to decide who you want to share your HIV status with, e.g. B. with trusted family members and friends. Write down a list of people you want to tell, Lightfoot says. “Every person has their own circumstances,” she says.
Ask yourself these questions about each person:
- Why do I want to tell this person? Maybe you don’t want to hide a secret from anyone. Or you worry that someone else will tell you about your HIV status.
- What am I hoping for from this person? Think about what you might want from them, whether it’s emotional support or a helping hand.
- What do I want to share about my HIV status? Decide what details you want to disclose and how to answer any questions you may have.
- How do I expect this person to respond? Some people won’t react the way you think, but it’s a good idea to be prepared.
What resources do I have?
You can choose to tell people yourself. But there are also tools that can help.
State and local health departments offer partner services free of charge. They will tell your sexual or needle-sharing partners that they have been exposed and need to be tested. Your doctor or social worker can put you in touch with a healthcare advisor from partner services.
Typically, you choose how you want to disclose the information.
- Anonymous Third-Party Notification. A health advisor will contact your partners. Your name and identity will not be disclosed to them.
- Double Disclosure. You will speak to an advisor with partners.
- self-disclosure. A counselor will help you prepare and practice, but you tell your partners yourself. The health department will arrange for them to get tested.
You can also work with your doctor. “I let patients bring their relatives to my practice to disclose their status,” says Kirchner. “It’s helpful because I can share medical information face-to-face and answer any questions.”
What’s the best way to share the news?
It is often difficult to inform people about your HIV-positive status. But there are some steps you can take to make the conversation go more smoothly.
- Find a safe place. Plan to speak in a quiet area where you can have a private conversation. If there is a chance of a bad reaction, speak in a place where you have space but other people are nearby, such as a desk. B. in a park.
- Be direct and specific. Tell the person you have HIV instead of saying you have a chronic illness or virus, Lightfoot says. Then articulate what you want from the person, such as, “I need someone to talk to who will love me no matter what, and I hope that person is you. I need your support right now.”
- Know the facts and have information ready. Sometimes people’s responses to HIV are driven by fear and misunderstanding. “Some people think HIV is a deadly disease, even though we know it isn’t,” says Kirchner. “Most patients cope very well with the treatment. It’s controllable.” They should be able to explain the basics about HIV and provide resources where they can get more information.
- Be prepared for any reaction. You don’t know exactly how someone will react. “It’s going to hurt emotionally when someone you love reacts badly,” says Lightfoot. Think about how you will deal with these feelings. “You know who you’re going to talk to about it, whether it’s a therapist, a counselor, or another friend,” she says.
- Consider taking a step back. You may need to give the other person time to process the news. “You can get back to them,” Lightfoot says. “Or they can come to you when they’re ready.” In some cases, you may need to reconsider your relationship, she says. “Think about what you wanted to get from this person and if it’s worth it.”