Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional, so all the information I’ll discuss in this article is based on my personal experience. Things my consultant and doctor told me and some information I got from doing my own research.
If you’ve followed this blog or my Instagram you may or may not know that for the past two years I’ve been living with the hiv virus. Being open about my status is a huge privilege, which is the exact same reason behind making these posts. I want to break the taboo around hiv and hopefully create more awareness and compassion for those who live with the virus.
We live in a world where not everyone has access to hiv treatment or and who don’t have safe spaces to be open about their status. This can greatly affect someone’s physical and mental health.
New let’s dive in and look at some of the things I’ve learned on my journey.
1. It can affect your cholesterol levels
This one was a bit of a shocker, but the moment you get diagnosed and start treatment, you’ll always have to monitor your cholesterol. The reason for this is that some medications affect the levels of lipids (fats), including cholesterol, in your blood. Besides the medication, the virus itself also affects the way your body stores lipids. The details to why this happens aren’t fully known to me, so if you’re interested to learn more you can always contact a professional.
Me being vegan plays a big factor in all of this. Because my diet is void of any animal fats it’s a bit easier for me to regulate my cholesterol levels. During the two years of me living with the virus my cholesterol has stayed in good condition.
2. Undetectable = Untransmittable
Learning that the hiv treatment would prevent me from spreading the disease came as a big relief. It’s also something that can spark an anger. This is a disease that doesn’t have to be deadly anymore, yet there are still many who don’t have access. I can go on and on how this is telling and shows a sinister side of those capitalising over disease, but let’s safe that for the future.
The moment you start taking your medication, the drugs will start attacking the virus. After a period of time the copies of the virus will be so low that they won’t be detectable during blood tests. Simply put, this means you won’t be able to infect anyone else. This isn’t a permanent state, which means you’ll have to continue taking the medication. The moment you stop taking the drugs, the virus will slowly start to multiply.
3. Hiv prevention
Hiv prevention is a very important topic, something I would have loved my younger self to know. There are a couple of ways to prevent yourself from contracting this disease. Besides safe sex there are two meds that help to prevent this disease. Again *sigh* these are not available for everyone.
One of these meds is PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), which is a drug that helps to protect people against the hiv virus. You can take these meds as a precaution if you know you’ll be in situation where you’ll be exposed to the virus.
Than there is PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) which is a drug you take after you have been exposed to the virus. After being exposed it’s best to take these within 72 hours or it won’t be that effective. In the Netherlands you can get it at the GGD, emergency room, or treatment centres.
4. Regular check ups & CD4
Every 6 months I’ll have to do my blood work. During these tests they will check my CD4 levels, my cholesterol, kidney and liver values and more. They will also see if you have any infections in your body. At my very first check ups they also tested to see if my virus had any resistances. If you continuously skip the medication you’re on, the virus can mutate to resist the medication. Thus if you contract the virus from someone who has resistances to certain medications, you will have those too.
Back to the CD4, the CD4 cells are a part of your immune system. When you get infected with the disease the virus will start attacking these white blood cells. They will kill the cell and multiply. Once you’re CD4 count is below 200 you are considered to have aids. This is why treatment is so important. After I received my treatment my CD4 cells started growing and the virus began to decrease. During my last test my CD4 cells were stable and back to healthy.
One thing that I keep pointing out is privilege, I even wrote an article about it which you can find over here. The day I got my diagnosis I immediately told my family and friends. A few days later I went to the hospital were I immediately starting my tests and received all the information I needed. They even offered me mental health care. This story is rare, and it leaves me with a bitter taste knowing that most people won’t have these options.
These were just a couple of examples, but there are plenty more. I’m still not entirely sure what we can do as a collective to start changing this. So if you have any suggestions let’s talk and see what we can do.
Let’s continue this conversations
There’s so much more information to share about this disease, and I’m open to further discuss this topic. We need keep raising awareness and breaking the stigma around hiv. Leave me any suggestions in dm and let’s see how we can address this from a collective perspective.
One Love, Jason