Living Well with HIV
Positive Women Victoria (PWV) are here to help you on your journey. Navigating the challenges and complexities of living with HIV is at the forefront of our work.
It is important that you find an HIV specialist with whom you are comfortable making important decisions. HIV specialists are doctors trained in HIV medicine and are experts in managing the health of people living with HIV.
It is also important that you feel supported through this time. Many women feel a strong need to speak to another positive woman. Contact our Peer Support team who can help arrange this, as well as provide you with information relevant to your situation.
Other important facts to remember:
- successful HIV treatment means you can expect to live as long as anyone else
- with treatment, you can suppress the virus and significantly reduce the chance of transmitting HIV to others, including unborn children; and
- by taking steps to prevent transmission, you can have a healthy sex life.
Visit our Love, Sex and Travel section to learn more.
HIV can potentially be transmitted via the following body fluids:
- vaginal fluids; and
- breast milk.
For HIV to be transmitted in any bodily fluid, however, the virus must be present in sufficient amounts. Transmission of HIV can be prevented by:
- use of condoms when having vaginal or anal sex
- use of HIV treatment: effective HIV treatment can prevent HIV from being transmitted through sexual activity, and during pregnancy or at childbirth, because it can reduce HIV to ‘undetectable’ levels, i.e. too low for transmission to occur; and
- if you inject drugs, do not share equipment or needles.
If you are living with HIV but do not have an undetectable viral load, this certainly does not mean that you cannot enjoy sex or intimacy. Using a condom during vaginal or anal sex is an effective means to prevent transmission of HIV.
Learn More about undetectable viral loads and U=U.
Many people starting HIV treatment for the first time can expect to take one pill per day with minimal or manageable side effects.
Positive Women understands that starting treatment is a personal decision and that the female experience of HIV is unique. We are here to support you through this journey, and recommend the following as a basis:
- find an HIV care provider, even if you do not feel any different
- prepare for your first appointment. Do some research and make a list of questions before you go; and
- think about your support system. You can find support among trusted friends, family or members of your community.
We offer a number of ways to grow your confidence in order to empower you to look after your health and wellbeing. You can contact one of our Peer Support team to arrange a one-on-one catch up to talk about what it’s like being on treatments, and the challenges that may go with it.
We also offer a safe and confidential workshop with community partner, Living Positive Victoria, called Phoenix Workshop. This event is for newly or recently diagnosed people and is a space where you can share your feelings and questions about treatment amongst people who are in a similar situation.
Email our Peer Support team when our next Phoenix Workshop is.
Since 2001, there has been solid evidence that someone living with HIV who is on effective treatment cannot transmit HIV.
This means that a person living with HIV who has an undetectable viral load cannot transmit HIV to their sexual partners if they meet the following conditions:
- they have been on antiretroviral therapy (ART) for six months;
- they have an ongoing undetectable viral load and;
- they take their medication as directed by their doctor. It is important that they do not miss doses of their medication and that they attend regular appointments with their HIV doctor.
Learn more about Understanding U=U.
CD4 count and Viral Load
CD4 counts used to be the only way to understand how HIV was affecting your immune system. The CD4 count is a measure of the damage already done.
The viral load is a measure of the risk of future damage. ‘Viral load’ is the term used to describe the amount of the HIV virus present in your bloodstream.
Knowing how much HIV is present is an important indicator of how much your immune system is at risk of damage, how well your treatments are working, or whether you should consider starting or changing treatments.
Learn more about Understanding U=U.
PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis)
An important HIV prevention option is PrEP. PrEP (the name is short for ‘pre-exposure prophylaxis’) is a drug treatment available to people who may be at risk of HIV infection. The drug is a combination of two drugs that are used as treatment in people living with HIV. For people who do not have HIV, PrEP is able to prevent HIV transmission from occurring.
PrEP may be useful for women in some circumstances, such as if you have a regular partner who is living with HIV but who does not have an undetectable viral load. You can talk to your doctor about whether PrEP is an option for you, or for your sexual partners if you are a woman living with HIV.