HIV used to be a dreadful disease due to the health challenges and mortality associated with it but that is no longer true.
HIV today is a manageable health condition. Many doctors even compare HIV with chronic lifestyle disorders like hypertension, diabetes, thyroid dysfunctions etc.
With recent medical advancements HIV has become easy to handle, if detected early.
The major concern of most HIV patients and their family members is the future prospect: what the future holds for them? How long will they live? How will their lives change post HIV?
So, with early initiation of ART (Anti-retroviral therapy), the HIV viral load starts diminishing and is expected to become not detectable in one to three months’ time
This is what is also called as U = U stage.
Undetectable = Untransmitable
The antiretroviral therapy is a combination of drugs that suppress the growth of HIV in the body, prevent co-morbidities by ensuring good immune status and has minimal side effects. The ART medications should be taken under strict medical guidance as consuming the right meds in right doses is vital for effective treatment.
With prolonged viral suppression, the HIV infected persons or PLHIV becomes safe for themselves and for others this means that they maintain good CD4 levels and also are most unlikely to get any opportunistic infections.
At the same time, when viral load is undetectable, they cannot pass on HIV to their sexual partners. This also implies that an HIV positive male on ART with undetectable viral load will not transmit the infection to his female partner, who in turn can produce an HIV negative baby. Such child births are increasingly becoming common.
Similarly, an HIV positive lady with undetectable viral load shall not infect her male partner and can give birth to an HIV negative baby.
Facts associated with Life Expectancy post HIV:
- The age of the patient is an important factor for better life expectancy as a young adult is expected to have a better ability to fight infections and have lower age-related conditions than an older counterpart. Thus, a 21 year old PLHIV has a higher / normal life expectancy as compared to a 55-year old.
- Though HIV is not completely eradicated from the system, with regular ART and health monitoring, HIV does not progress to AIDS
- It has been observed in HIV patients who did not take antiretroviral therapy (ART) regularly, that their probability of contracting opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis, salmonellosis, various cancers etc is very high due to their compromised immune system.
- For drug users, the life expectancy is comparatively lower as they are more liable to indulge in risky sexual activities or may have drug overdose.
- Women are expected to live few years longer than males.
- The initial response of the body to HIV treatment is very important. Thus, a high CD4 and white blood cell count after 1 year of treatment and low viral load is a good guide to one’s response to the treatment.
- Having other STDs or chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension etc can affect life expectancy, if these are not managed well
HIV can change your life but, not necessarily, shorten it. The key to win over HIV is timely medical interventions, healthy diet, regular exercise, proper weight management and no smoking or substance abuse.