Coping with an HIV positive status
Treatment and care extends beyond the walls of medical facilities. An HIV positive person must be encouraged to take an active role in their own care.
Doctors may recommend the following care considerations:
- Diet and nutrition: The destructive nature of HIV on the body’s immune system can significantly weaken a person’s strength and easily deplete energy levels. To support the immune system, build strength and sufficient energy, an HIV positive person should eat a balanced and nutritious diet daily. Fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains are essential for a healthier and stronger body. Foods to steer clear of include unpasteurised dairy products, raw seafood, and raw egg products. All meat should be cooked well (well done). Foods to limit include sugar and salt. The ideal daily eating plan will include enough calories to maintain lean body mass, lean protein (pork, beef, chicken and fish) to help build a stronger immune system, organs and muscles in the body, carbohydrates for energy and healthy fats for additional energy. Vitamins and minerals are also important to help regulate bodily function and ensure additional help for repairing and healing damaged cells. A nutritionist or dietician can assist in developing a sufficient diet plan, especially if a person has other nutrition related complications. A doctor can also assist with advising what to eat or not to eat when experiencing uncomfortable side-effects. Some foods can aggravate or trigger side-effects. Others can help alleviate discomforts such as nausea and vomiting.
- Dietary supplements: Some dietary supplements can help to given a person’s immune system a bit of a boost or even counteract some medication side-effects. It is advisable to speak to a doctor before taking any supplements to ensure that they are safe. Supplements that may be helpful include Acetyl-L-carnitine (for the treatment of nerve pain) and whey protein (to help with gaining weight, improving CD4 count and alleviating diarrhoea). Supplements to avoid include St. John’s wort and those that contain garlic. These may reduce the effectiveness of some ART medications. Doctors will be able to recommend a variety of other options which won’t counteract the effectiveness of medical treatment or adversely interact with the cocktail of medications and HIV positive person will be taking.
- Get frequent vaccinations: As an HIV positive person is more vulnerable to various other infections, receiving relevant vaccinations, such as the flu shot, to prevent illness as much as possible is all the more important. Infections such as flu and pneumonia can become dangerous for an HIV positive individual as a result of their compromised immune systems.
- Precautions with companion animals / pets: Various animal species that are popular pets can carry parasites which can cause infections. An HIV positive individuals should take extra care when handling cat faeces (which can case toxoplasmosis), reptiles (that can carry salmonella) or birds (that can carry fungi such as histoplasmosis or Cryptococcus). An HIV positive person need not be fearful of keeping pets, but should take precaution when handling animals and always ensure to wash their hands thoroughly thereafter.
- Seek support where needed: Much of an HIV positive person’s daily life will focus on the physical effects of the disease, but the emotional and mental areas shouldn’t be neglected. A person will feel effects in their social life and also experience financial impacts too. Coping can be a tricky and often, very difficult thing, and not just for the infected person either. Those closest to them may also be impacted. Nowadays there are a variety of services, resources and support groups available for those affected by HIV, whether coping with the disease themselves or in that of a loved one. Most clinics can provide access to counsellors, social workers and other medically qualified individuals who can provide coping support when it comes to home-life, employment, financial or even legal issues. It can be difficult, but it is very important to do everything possible to try and come to terms with a life-long illness such as HIV. Counsellors can also help an HIV positive individual better understand their illness, as well as advise on better ways to interact with others so as not to put them at risk of infection, especially when it comes to sexual activity. Healthier behaviours can make all the difference in a better quality of life outside of medical treatment (medications and testing).
- Learning to deal with stigma: Disclosing HIV status where necessary shouldn’t be avoided. Ignorance promotes stigma. When it comes to loved ones and especially in relationships, an HIV positive person should feel that they can disclose their status to the individuals concerned. Counsellors can best advise the most appropriate ways to handle various scenarios and communicate with others. It is especially important to disclose an HIV positive status where others have potentially been exposed to the virus. A newly diagnosed individual should get in contact with all others who may have been exposed so that they can get themselves tested and / or treated if necessary. Many countries offer anonymous services which can do this on behalf of an HIV positive person.
- Learning how to take precautions when it comes to transmission risk: An HIV positive individual must be well-aware of all necessary precautions when it comes to the possible spread of their infection. Correct condom use during sexual activity can go a long way in reducing transmission occurrences. A person can also take extra precautions when it comes to their viral load. An infected person is as higher risk of spreading infection when their viral load is high. Lower loads do not make a person incapable of transmitting the disease. A partner of an infected individual can also take certain precautions. If available, the partner of an infected person can take PrEP medications (pre-exposure prophylaxis) on a daily basis to reduce their risk of exposure and contracting the disease.
- Make efforts to take the best care: An HIV positive person should do their best to get plenty of exercise, rest, keep all medical check-up appointments, and engage in health social activities. Socialising and support groups can do the world of good for a person learning to live with a life-long disease such as HIV/AIDS.