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HIV: Care Instructions


Human immunodeficiency virus (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 doesn't mean that you have AIDS. AIDS is the last stage of HIV infection, and with treatment, you can avoid it.

Medicines called antiretrovirals are the main treatment for HIV. By fighting the virus, these medicines can help your immune system stay healthy and can prevent AIDS. And they can help you live about as long as someone without HIV.

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 the virus is still in your body. If you don't get treated, symptoms come back and then remain. Common symptoms include fatigue, weight loss, fever, night sweats, diarrhea, swollen lymph nodes, and mouth sores. If HIV progresses to AIDS, your symptoms get worse and your body is less and less able to fight infections like pneumonia and tuberculosis.

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?

  • Take your HIV medicine exactly as directed. Talk to your doctor if you have problems such as trouble paying for your medicine or missing doses. Your doctor wants to help.
  • Take care to avoid foodborne illness. Having HIV means you are more likely to get foodborne diseases. So learn how to handle, prepare, and store food safely.
  • If you smoke, try to quit. Having HIV increases your 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.
  • Eat healthy foods. Good nutrition can help your immune system and improve your overall health. Talk to your doctor or see a dietitian if you need help.
  • Be active. It helps relieve stress and helps you feel less tired. It also keeps your heart, lungs, and muscles strong. And it may help your immune system work better.
  • Learn more about HIV. This will let you take a more active role in your care.
  • If you inject drugs, use new, clean syringes and needles every time. Don't share injection supplies with others.
  • Get the support you need.
    • Join a support group. This can be a good place to share information, problem-solving tips, and emotions.
    • If you need more support, ask your doctor to connect you with a counsellor. Counselling can help you cope with stress and stigma, and it can help if you have substance use disorder or other mental health conditions.

How can you help prevent the spread of HIV?

If you have HIV, you can take steps to avoid spreading the infection to others.

  • Take antiretroviral medicines.

    Getting treated for HIV can help you stay healthy. It also helps protect other people from getting infected.

  • Let your sex and injection partners know that you have HIV.

    Encourage any partners to get medicine to prevent HIV. This is called PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis). PrEP can help keep them from getting HIV.

  • Have safer sex.

    Using a condom can help prevent the spread of HIV. So can having one sex partner and choosing activities that have a lower risk than vaginal or anal sex.

  • Never share needles, syringes, or other injection supplies.

    Use new, clean supplies every time.

  • Talk to any partners about PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis).

    This medicine can help prevent HIV if it's taken within 3 days of exposure to HIV.

  • Do not donate blood, plasma, sperm, body organs, or body tissues.

    HIV can spread through these things.

When should you call for help?

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

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe shortness of breath.
  • You have chest pain.
  • You have symptoms of a stroke. These may include:
    • Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or loss of movement in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
    • Sudden vision changes.
    • Sudden trouble speaking.
    • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
    • Sudden problems with walking or balance.
    • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.

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

  • You have signs of a new or worse problem from HIV, such as:
    • A fever.
    • Coughing.
    • Diarrhea.
    • Skin changes.
    • Bleeding.
    • Confusion or not thinking clearly.

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

  • You have missed doses of your HIV medicine. Your doctor can offer ideas or help you find the support you need to stick with your treatment.
  • You are having side effects from your medicines.
  • You have new or worse symptoms.

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.