Recently Diagnosed

If you have just been diagnosed with HIV, you may be experiencing a range of emotions, such as shock, fear and anger. You will also likely have many questions: What does it mean to be HIV-positive? Does it mean I have AIDS? Is HIV manageable? What now?

Being diagnosed with HIV means you have been infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and that two HIV tests - a preliminary test and a confirmatory test - have both come back positive. There is currently no cure for HIV. It is a serious, infectious disease that can lead to death if untreated. But the good news is that with treatment, you can expect to live as long as any other woman in Australia. Your diagnosis does not prevent you from having sex or from having children. It may help you to know there are women all over Australia living well with HIV, enjoying healthy lives and achieving their goals relating to work, study, sport, and travel.

Being HIV-positive does not necessarily mean you have AIDS. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV disease. If you are diagnosed early, start treatment and take your medication correctly, you can stay healthy and prevent the virus from developing into AIDS and other life-threatening AIDS-related conditions. HIV is manageable when you are linked into medical care and are involved in the discussions with you doctor about antiretroviral therapy (ART). Take the time to read the HIV basics.

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. HIV specialists are located at major public hospitals, the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre and at some GP clinics throughout Victoria. For a list of specialists by state and suburb, click here. Women living in regional or rural towns may find it difficult to access HIV expertise in their area, or have concerns about confidentiality. Although most HIV clinical experts are located in inner Melbourne, these specialists can provide support for your local regional or rural doctor to manage your health issues. The Victorian HIV Consultancy is often able to link people living in rural locations with GPs and other health care providers.  

It is important that you think about past sexual partners who you think might have been exposed to HIV so that they can be contacted and offered testing. Think about partners in the period between your last negative HIV test and this positive test result. Contacting previous partners can be a difficult thing to do and support is available. There are specialist health workers who can do this on your behalf without involving you or disclosing your identity. Talk with your doctor about this.

It is also important that you feel supported through this challenging time. Many women feel a strong need to speak to another positive woman and Positive Women Victoria can help arrange this, as well as provide you with information relevant to your situation. 

Important points to remember when you are newly diagnosed  

  • Being HIV-positive means it is possible to pass the virus to others
  • With treatment, you can suppress the virus and significantly reduce the chance of transmitting HIV to others, including unborn children
  • HIV positive parents can have HIV negative children
  • Successful HIV treatment means you can expect to live as long as anyone else
  • Treatment can be as simple as taking one or two pills once a day
  • By taking steps to prevent transmission, you can have a healthy sex life 

Newly diagnosed check list  

  • Don't panic. This is life-changing news but you have options to protect your health, and Positive Women Victoria is here to support you through the journey.
  • Find an HIV care provider, even if you do not feel sick.
  • Prepare for your first appointment. Do some research and make a list of questions before you go. 
  • Find a support system. You can find support among trusted friends, family or members of your community.
  • Begin thinking about who you want to tell. It's important to remember that you do not need to tell everyone all at once. At this time, it is important to disclose your HIV status to your healthcare providers and sexual partners. 
  • If you smoke, we don't recommend attempting to quit smoking while you are still processing your diagnosis. However, do start thinking about lifestyle changes that you can make that will help you stay healthy in the long term. Things like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and recreational drug use can further weaken your immune system. Positive Women can provide you with information about programs that can help you quit using these substances.  

For further information, refer to this informative New Zealand booklet and this fact sheet published by The Alfred, both designed for newly diagnosed individuals.