Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) weakens the body’s immune system by attacking cells that fight infections. If left untreated, HIV can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Though there is no cure for HIV, there are many things you can do to keep yourself healthy and prevent transmission.
Just the Facts: HIV/AIDS
Get tested! The CDC cautions that some people may experience flu-like symptoms within 2-4 weeks after contracting HIV, but others may be asymptomatic. Knowing your HIV status provides you with important tools and information to keep yourself and those around you healthy. To learn more about testing you can:
- Visit gettested.cdc.gov to find a testing site closest to you. You can also talk to your doctor about testing.
- Call 800-541-AIDS (or 311 if you’re in NYC)
- Visit HIVtestNY.org for additional resources on HIV and local testing centers.
There are numerous ways to stop the spread of HIV. The CDC’s HIV Prevention page and the New York State Department of Health have outlined several resources and tips.
- Use condoms correctly every time you have sex. Learn the right way to use a male condom and a female condom. New Yorkers can request free condoms through the statewide HIV/STI/HCV hotline by calling 800-541-2437 or visiting nyaidsline.org.
- Consider pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) – the antiretroviral medication is used by people without HIV who are at risk of being exposed to the virus to prevent its acquisition. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is an emergency medication that can be taken within 72 hours after possible exposure to HIV. Learn more about PrEP here.
- Never share needles or syringes. New York State’s Expanded Syringe Access Program (ESAP) allows for people who are 18 years or older to obtain hypodermic needles and syringes without a medical prescription.
People living with HIV or AIDS can take steps to manage their condition and life a healthy life. People living with HIV should:
- See their primary care provider (PCP) or HIV/AIDS specialist at least every six months.
- Have their viral load checked a few times a year. Talk to your PCP about how often you should take a viral load test.
- Receive other tests and immunizations as recommended by your care team.
Not knowing the facts about HIV may lead to discrimination. People with HIV and their allies can combat this by talking openly about HIV to help normalize the subject and provide correct information. The CDC’s Let’s Stop HIV Together resource page features a language guide that encourages people to use supportive words and phrases when talking about HIV/AIDS.
If you think your rights have been violated because of your HIV/AIDS status or because someone has suspicions about your HIV/AIDS status, even if they are not true, you can file a complaint with the Americans with Disabilities Act at ADA.gov. There are also numerous hotlines available to help file a complaint:
- Legal Action Center: 212-243-1313
- New York State Division of Human Rights: 888-392-3644
- New York City Commission on Human Rights: 212-306-7450
- New York State HIV Prison Hotline: 716-854-5469 (toll free)
- New York State Confidentiality Hotline: 800-962-3934
EmblemHealth HIV/AIDS Case Management
The EmblemHealth HIV/AIDS Case Management program can help you find community-based resources and navigate the health care system. The program can help you take charge of your own health by connecting you with the right health care professionals and resources for you. This can ensure you get necessary medical services and teach you how to reduce high-risk behavior.
EmblemHealth members diagnosed with HIV/AIDS qualify to enroll in the HIV/AIDS Case Management program.
You can enroll or ask questions by calling our Case Management program at 800-447-0768, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Specially trained HIV case managers provide confidential disease-focused support to help members monitor their condition and maximize their health and wellness outcomes. Members will receive ongoing training and information on topics including:
- How to make good choices in their everyday lives.
- How to access anonymous and/or rapid testing for sexual partners.
- How the law protects personal and confidential health information.
- Precautions they can take to keep themselves and others safe.
- Proper use of medicines, including dosage and side effects.
What to know about HIV and COVID-19*
We know the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may be concerning to you and your family. Your health is important to us and we want to ensure that you have the correct information available to you.
The CDC is still learning more about how COVID-19 affects people with HIV, but based on current research, they believe that people with HIV who are receiving HIV treatment have the same risk for COVID-19 as someone who does not have HIV. Older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions might be at increased risk. This includes people who have weakened immune systems. The risk for people with HIV getting very sick is greatest in:
- People with a low CD4 cell count, and
- People not on effective HIV treatment (antiretroviral therapy or ART).
Since there is currently no vaccine against COVID-19, the best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to:
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Using a hand sanitizer can help as well, but washing your hands is always preferable.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash. If you don’t have a tissue, cough into the crook of your elbow, not your hands.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and touchpoints like doorknobs, handles, light switches, and your phone.
It’s also important to practice social distancing by staying at least six feet (two meters) from other people. Remember that some people without symptoms may be able to spread virus. Keeping distance from others is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
Continue to practice good hygiene to prevent coronavirus, and other severe illnesses like the flu, from spreading.
Are there any additional precautions someone with HIV can take to protect themselves against COVID-19?
People with HIV have higher rates of certain underlying health conditions, which can increase the risk for more severe illness if COVID-19 is contracted. People with advanced HIV and older adults are especially vulnerable.
In addition to the recommendations listed above, people with HIV can take certain precautions to protect themselves from COVID-19:
- Keep your medicine in stock. Make sure you have at least a 30- to 90-day supply of your HIV medicine and any other medicines or supplies you need for managing your HIV. Ask your PCP about receiving your medicine by mail.
- Get all the necessary vaccinations. Talk to your PCP and make sure all your shots are up to date, including shots against seasonal influenza (flu) and bacterial pneumonia. These diseases are more common in people with HIV but are preventable with the shot.
- Establish and maintain a plan for remote clinical care. Try to establish a telemedicine link through your PCP or HIV/AIDS doctor’s online portal. If telemedicine is not available to you, make sure you can communicate with your doctors by phone or text. You should update your remote clinical care plan every year, or any time you have a change in your health or HIV treatment.
- Talk to your doctor about delaying certain visits or treatments. If your HIV cannot be detected, talk to your PCP about the possibility of delaying your routine medical and lab visits. If your PCP changed your HIV treatment, ask if it’s safe to delay the change until follow-up testing and monitoring are possible.
- Stay connected with friends and family. Make sure you can stay in contact with your friends and family online, by phone, or by video chat. This can help you stay socially connected and mentally healthy, which is especially important for people with HIV. If you become sick, it’s important to be able to reach these people.
Currently, treatment for COVID-19 is very limited and there is no vaccine available. There is no evidence that any medicines used to treat HIV are effective against COVID-19. People with HIV should not switch their HIV medicine to try to prevent or treat COVID-19.
*Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)