8 New Year’s Resolutions For People Living With HIV
2016 was a year marked by a number of breakthroughs in HIV research. And while you can’t control the rate of scientific progress in the new year, you do have the tools to help ensure that you can live a long and healthy life no matter where you are on your HIV journey.
As we know, New Year’s resolutions have gotten a bad reputation because they so often fail. We take on too many, procrastinate, or adopt someone else’s resolutions that don’t truly resonate with our own goals. So, rather than thinking of the following tips as resolutions, we can think of them as 8 small steps to achieving a healthier lifestyle.
1. Get Tested Today
With an estimated 200,000 Americans still undiagnosed for HIV, the need for universal screening has never been stronger. It’s also never been easier to get tested. The options for testing include next-generation combination antigen/antibody tests endorsed by the CDC. This simple, finger-prick test can effectively cut the window period from an average of four weeks to as little as 12 days. Rapid testing can offer you results within as little as a minute’s time.
2. Find Good Medical Care
HIV is a lifelong condition, but one that can be effectively treated and which demands consistent medical oversight. Treatment failure is largely a by-product of inconsistent care.
The barriers to HIV care are often complex, particularly for those unable to afford the high cost of HIV treatment. But there are always solutions, not only for lower income individuals but also for anyone struggling to pay for their drugs or health insurance premiums. Start by learning what assistance programs you may be qualified for and explore new strategies for finding low-cost insurance coverage, whatever your income bracket.
3. If Diagnosed, Start HIV Therapy Today
If you find out that you are HIV-positive, you should begin treatment right away. No longer is it recommended that antiretroviral drug treatment be delayed until a person "needs" it. Today, treatment on diagnosis ensures a healthier, longer life, and reduces the risk of onward exposure.
If you’ve started treatment in the past, but have fallen off your medication cycle, the New Year can be a good time to make the goal to get back on track. Remember that effective ART depends on medication adherence—taking HIV medicines every day and exactly as prescribed.
Your first step can be to find a doctor who specializes in HIV treatment and an insurance plan that can cover treatment costs.
4. Get and Stay Undetectable
Once you’re on treatment, the goal is to lower your viral level to the point that it becomes undetectable in your blood. Once you are undetectable, you are only four percent likely to transmit HIV to your partner, and that is given specific circumstances.
Only 65 percent of Americans on HIV therapy are able to achieve undetectable viral loads today because they fail to adhere to proper treatment. The consequence of continued failure can be enormous, both from a population and an individual perspective. Research from the U.K. Collaborative HIV Cohort (CHIC) Study, in fact, suggests that the failure to achieve viral suppression can shorten life expectancy by as much as 11 years.
5. Know Your T-Cell Count and Get Your T-Cells up
As an HIV infection progresses, the number of your CD4 cells decline. When the CD4 count drops below 200 due to advanced HIV disease, a person is diagnosed with AIDS, and at that point it can be hard to ever get those CD4 cells back up to a healthy level. That’s why it’s crucial that you know your CD4 count. If it’s low, then you can talk to your doctor about ways to bring it back up.
6. Talk To Your Friends & Partners About PrEP
There really is no such thing as being overly cautious when it comes to HIV. HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a preventive once daily antiretroviral pill, which can reduce HIV infection by as much as 92 percent. This past year, over 79,000 people were prescribed PrEP, and that number seems to only be rising.
Co-pay assistance programs are available to those who qualify, making access to PrEP far easier for those denied treatment by their insurance. Medicaid and medical programs also offer PrEP. If you are interested in learning more about PrEP, this is a great resource to read stories from people who have tired or who are currently trying the drug.
7. Re-Examine Your Diet
HIV is associated with inflammation, which can then lead to many diseases from heart disease to cancer to depression. HIV-positive people are more likely to have heart disease as they age. In order to ensure a long and healthy life, it’s vital to quit smoking, cut back on drinking, get exercise, and follow an HIV-friendly diet. For more ideas on how to eat healthy while living with HIV, look here.
8. Get Involved
Become an advocate for people living with HIV by joining local community groups, online forums, or national groups like AVERT. Getting involved will make you feel like you are making a difference in a cause that directly affects you and will also help you deal with the depression and isolation that people who are HIV-positive can sometimes experience.