If you live in the U.S.A. one of the first things you see when you look up HIV is it is classified as rare. In this sense rare has an exact meaning; it means there are less than 200,000 new cases per year. Amazing though it is, HIV is in the same category as tuberculosis or cystic fibrosis.
I don’t mean the statement to be in any way negating the effects of those diseases on sufferers, but rather as a statement of how something once so terrible and terrifying back in the day, is now classified as rare and is not a death sentence any longer.
Good luck and bad luck
You hit a wall of irony when you’re trying to write about HIV as a westerner, because you know that you’re lucky. It is only comparative luck though. You’re luckier than someone living in Africa. In Swaziland and Botswana a quarter of the population has aids. One person in four sitting at the dining table has aids. Everyone in the population knows someone who is infected.
If you have to be positive, as someone living with HIV is known as, then being positive in the USA is a lot better than elsewhere.
Living with HIV
In case you didn’t know, HIV is a virus and once you have it you have it for life. The virus is carried in the blood stream and untreated it makes you susceptible to other infections, some of which can become serious enough to kill.
They key to living with HIV is to get what it called the viral load, or how much virus is carried in each milliliter of blood, so low as to be undetectable. The first thing to remember for those of us who are lucky is that this is possible.
ART or antiretroviral therapy
Here’s the good news, ART is successful at reducing the viral load. Here’s the bad news, it can have a whole pile of unpleasant side effects and you must take it every day for the rest of your life; even when you’re well and even when HIV is undetectable.
You really shouldn’t miss a dose.
Timing is everything
Here’s another one of those luck things. Back in the 1980s an HIV patient could be taking more than 30 tablets a day. But advances in medicine and drugs combined in a cocktail have reduced that to a single daily pill,or maybe 3. Dealing with HIV now, thirty years later, is a lot luckier than back then when so many lives were cut short.
Loads of people do this
People with type 1 diabetes, people with asthma, people with cancer all have to medicate on a daily basis. HIV is much easier to manage than type 1 diabetes which is classified as common. Yet again we HIV carriers must count ourselves lucky.
And in truth we do count ourselves lucky – at least I think we do. If we had to have some back luck health-wise it could be a lot worse.