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HIV: Care Instructions


Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is a virus that attacks your immune system. This makes it hard for your body to fight infection and disease. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). But having HIV does not mean that you have AIDS. Treatment of HIV may prevent or delay HIV from developing into AIDS.

HIV often causes flu-like symptoms soon after a person gets infected. These early symptoms go away in a few weeks. After that, you may not have signs of illness for many years. But as the virus multiplies in your body, symptoms reappear and then remain. Fatigue, weight loss, fever, night sweats, diarrhea, and other symptoms are common. If HIV is not treated and progresses to AIDS, your symptoms get worse and your body is less and less able to fight infections like pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Medicines are the main treatment for HIV. You will likely have to take several medicines. By fighting the virus, these medicines can help your immune system stay healthy and delay or prevent AIDS, and may help you live longer. Medicines for HIV are called antiretrovirals.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • If you are taking medicines for HIV, take them exactly as directed, in the right dose and at the right time. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Learn how to shop for, prepare, and store food safely to reduce your risk of a foodborne illness. People with HIV are more likely to get foodborne diseases.
  • Stop smoking. People with HIV have an increased risk of heart attacks and lung cancer. Smoking increases these risks even more. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Do not use illegal drugs, and limit your use of alcohol. Using intravenous (IV) illegal drugs may increase the risk that HIV will get worse. And it may make it harder to follow your treatment plan. Heavy use of alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, or other illegal drugs also may make HIV get worse faster.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Good nutrition can help your immune system and improve your overall health. Staying at a healthy weight can be hard, since weight loss and digestion problems are common with HIV and are side effects of some HIV medicines. Sometimes you just won't feel like eating. Talk to your doctor or see a dietitian if you need help.
  • Get regular exercise. It relieves stress. It also keeps your heart, lungs, and muscles strong and helps you feel less tired. It may also help your immune system work better.
  • Learn more about HIV. This will let you take a more active role in your care. It may help you feel more in control of your life.
  • Join a support group. Support groups can be a good place to share information, problem-solving tips, and emotions.

To avoid spreading HIV to others

  • Take antiretroviral medicines. Getting treated for HIV can help prevent the spread of HIV to people who are not infected.
  • Tell your sex partner or partners that you have HIV. Do not have sex with anyone unless you have told them that you have HIV.
  • If you and your partner choose to have sex, always use a condom.
  • If you use IV drugs, do not share needles.
  • Do not share toothbrushes, razors, sex toys, or other items that may have blood, semen, or vaginal fluids on them.
  • Do not donate blood, plasma, semen, body organs, or body tissues.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have seizures.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have new weakness in an arm, a leg, or on one side of your body.
  • You have new changes in balance or sensation (numbness, tingling, or pain).
  • You are suddenly not able to stand or walk.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a fever that ever reaches 39.4°C or higher.
  • You have a fever of 38.3°C or higher for 24 hours.
  • You have shortness of breath.
  • You have unusual bleeding, such as from your nose or gums, blood in your urine or stool, or easy bruising.
  • You have changes in vision.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You have a cough that does not go away, especially if you also have a fever.
  • You have rapid, unexplained weight loss.
  • You have night sweats.
  • You have swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, or groin.
  • You feel very tired.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.