What’s the Next Step After You’re Diagnosed with HIV?
After you are diagnosed with HIV, it’s important to see a health care provider who can help you start medicine to treat HIV (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) as soon as possible. ART is recommended for all people with HIV, regardless of how long they’ve had the virus or how healthy they are. HIV medicines help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives and reduce the risk of HIV transmission.
Getting and staying on HIV medicine is important because, when taken as prescribed, these daily medications can reduce the amount of HIV in your blood (also called the viral load) to a very low level. If your viral load is so low that it doesn’t show up in a standard lab test, this is called having an undetectable viral load. Getting and keeping an undetectable viral load is the best thing you can do to stay healthy.
There is also a major prevention benefit. People living with HIV who take HIV medicine daily as prescribed and get and keep an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative partners.
How Do You Find an HIV Health Care Provider?
If you were tested at a health care provider’s office or a clinic, you can ask if they offer ongoing health care services for people with HIV, or if they can provide you a referral.
If you were tested someplace else and you need a provider, you can find one by using our HIV Services Locator. Just enter your ZIP code to view a list of nearby HIV medical services such as HIV testing, housing assistance, and substance abuse and mental health services. Here are other ways to find HIV health care providers and services.
Your first visit with a health care provider will usually include a review of your health and medical history, a physical exam, and several lab tests. Among other topics, the provider will typically explain the benefits of HIV treatment and discuss ways to reduce your risk of passing HIV to others.
How Can You Get Support After Your HIV Diagnosis?
Receiving a diagnosis of HIV can be a life-changing event. But HIV does not equal death. Most people with HIV live long and healthy lives if they get and stay on treatment.
There will be a period of adjustment. People who are newly diagnosed can feel many emotions—sadness, hopelessness, and even anger. Pay attention to your mental health. Your HIV health care provider can help you access mental health services to help you work through the early stages of your diagnosis and begin to manage your HIV.
Talking to others who have HIV may also be helpful. You are not alone. Ask your provider for help finding a local HIV support group. Learn about how other people living with HIV have handled their diagnosis.
How Can You Prevent Transmitting HIV to Others?
You may be concerned about potentially transmitting HIV to someone else. It’s important to know there are ways to prevent that. As noted above, the best thing you can do to prevent sexual transmission is to get and stay on HIV treatment and achieve an undetectable viral load. It may take time—work with your provider to develop a treatment plan and manage it effectively. But almost everyone who takes HIV medication daily as prescribed can achieve an undetectable viral load, usually within 6 months after starting treatment. Read more about HIV treatment as prevention.
There are other ways to prevent transmitting HIV as well. Read our pages:
- Preventing the sexual transmission of HIV
- Reducing the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV
- Preventing the transmission of HIV through injection drug use
Do You Have to Tell Others Your HIV Status?
For many people who have just learned of their HIV diagnosis, whether and how to tell others about it is a concern. You don’t have to tell everyone that you are living with HIV. Whether and how you disclose your status to others is your decision.
Talking to someone you trust about your HIV diagnosis can help you process your thoughts and emotions. Sharing the news of your diagnosis (also called disclosure) with your partner, a close friend, or family member and talking about your feelings can be helpful, and your friends and family may be a good source of support. However, some people may find disclosure to family and friends difficult. It may be helpful to first talk to a healthcare professional, counselor, patient navigator, or a peer support group. The testing center where you received your diagnosis can connect you with options in your area.
It’s important to share your status with your current and past sexual partners and anyone with whom you have shared drug injection equipment. This way, they can be tested and seek medical attention if needed. If telling them yourself is challenging or possibly risky, your local health department can notify them that they might have been exposed to HIV and provide them with testing, counseling, and referrals for other services.
In addition, your health care providers need to know so that they can support you and give you the best possible care.
Read more about telling others about your status and resources available to help you do so.