HIV/AIDS is one of the most feared illnesses. In addition to the physical and psychological stress of living with a serious disease, patients needs to cope with stigma. People with HIV/AIDS may be judged as promiscuous, dirty, or being a drug addict. Potential partners may avoid HIV-positive individuals for fear of becoming infected themselves.

In reality, HIV/AIDS is no longer the death sentence it once was when it first emerged. Today, it is a highly treatable illness, and not everyone with HIV will develop AIDS.

HIV vs. AIDS: What’s the difference?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is a virus that weakens the human immune system by destroying cells (CD4 or T cells) used to fight infection. Left untreated, HIV infection can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Over time, the virus can destroy so many T cells that the body can no longer defend itself against infections, making it more vulnerable to opportunistic infections and cancers.

We now have effective treatments for HIV/AIDS.

While there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, modern medicine has developed ways of care that, when used properly, can be extremely effective at controlling the virus.

HIV/AIDS treatment is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). When ART is used properly, the viral load can be virtually undetectable in the affected patient’s body. Successful ART can allow an HIV-positive person to live a long, healthy, and productive life with little risk of transmitting HIV to others. These people can enjoy having families and sexual partners like anyone else.

Barriers to Treatment

While ART is an effective treatment, some people have a harder time accessing it than others. For example, someone with less education may not be aware of their HIV status or that treatment is available, which may lead them to seek treatment too late to be effective. For those with low income, the medicine may be too expensive to procure, especially because ART involves a combination of prescription drugs.

If you or a loved one struggles with affording treatment, you can find significantly more affordable ART drugs online through international and Canadian pharmacy referral services. Drugs like Viread® (tenofovir disoproxil fumarate) can be purchased and shipped from countries like Canada where drug prices are more closely regulated.

High-risk populations can be protected against HIV.

Today, people belonging to high-risk populations, such as the sexual partners of HIV-positive people, can get preventive treatment called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Among people who are at risk of getting HIV through sex, PrEP can reduce risk of infection by more than 90%. For intravenous drug users, it can reduce risk by more than 70%.

PrEP consists of a daily combination medicine called Truvada® (tenofovir and emtricitabine) , and can also be bought online at a lower price. It is also covered under many health insurance policies.

People exposed to HIV can also get protection.

People potentially exposed to HIV can be protected with post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), but it needs to be started within 72 hours. High risk individuals include health-care providers, people who share drugs, sexual assault victims, and people who had unprotected sex with an HIV-positive person (if the condom broke, for example). If you’ve been exposed, find medical attention right away and ask about PEP. Every hour matters.

Why is there stigma against those with HIV/AIDS?

HIV/AIDS tends to affect some of the most vulnerable people in our community, such as men who have sex with men, sex workers, and drug users. These people are often vilified by mainstream society, are often economically under-privileged, and may have a harder time finding compassionate support.

Does HIV/AIDS really affect men who have sex with men (MSM) more than others?

HIV/AIDS has historically been closely associated with the gay community. Unfortunately, men who have sex with men (MSM), who engage in unprotected anal sex, are at a greater risk of contracting HIV than people who have vaginal or oral sex.

I’m HIV-positive. Do I have to tell others?

In some states, you are legally required to inform potential sex and intravenous drug use partners your HIV status. You should also tell any health-care provider that treats you. But usually, you are not required to tell your employer.

Disclosing HIV status can be stressful. Sometimes, you can ask the health department called Partner Services to inform your partner(s) on your behalf. Patients may also choose to talk to peers in a support group first, or have someone they trust with them when they disclose their status to others. However, disclosure can have positive effects: having love and support helps, and talking about HIV gives you space to process and express challenging emotions.

Regardless of your HIV status, it’s important to remember that while it’s a serious disease, HIV is not necessarily the end of the world. With proper treatment, HIV-positive people can have successful careers, raise families, and become valuable contributors to society.

Author's Bio: 

Alison Lee is a freelance writer in Vancouver, Canada. She enjoys writing about finance, health and medicine, among other topics.