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Discharge Instructions for HIV Infection and AIDS

You’ve been diagnosed with HIV, the virus that can cause AIDS. AIDS is a disease that can be life threatening. Untreated HIV attacks the body's immune system, making it tougher to fight infection. For people without HIV, infections are normally not severe or fatal. But for people with HIV or AIDS, these infections can sometimes cause severe complications. They can even be deadly if the body can’t fight them. Unlike most other viruses, the body can't get rid of HIV. Here's what you can do to help stay healthier and prevent the spread of HIV.

Caring for yourself

  • Take your medicine exactly as directed.

    • Don’t take any other medicine unless your healthcare provider says it’s OK. This includes prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, or vitamins or supplements. Medicine interactions can change how medicines work. They can cause serious side effects.

    • Tell your provider about any side effects.

    • Contact your provider if you have any new symptoms or if existing symptoms get worse.

  • See your healthcare provider regularly. Your provider will need to follow you closely for the rest of your life.

  • Tell all your providers that you are HIV-positive. This includes dentists and dental hygienists.

Help prevent the spread of HIV

If you are on HIV medicine and the amount of virus in your body (the viral load) is undetectable, your risk for spreading HIV to someone is very low. Getting and keeping an undetectable viral load is the best thing you can do to stay healthy and to prevent spreading HIV. Here are some tips:

  • Never share needles, including those for insulin, or other equipment for drug use.

  • If you get tattoos or have any parts of your body pierced, be sure that the needles are destroyed afterward.

  • Don't donate blood, plasma, semen, or organs.

  • If you are trying to have a baby, make sure you are taking your antiretroviral medicine each day and your viral load is undetectable. Follow all your provider's directions for managing your HIV. This is important both before conceiving and during the pregnancy.

  • If your viral load is not undetectable, you can protect your sex partner by:

    • Using condoms every time you have anal or vaginal sex

    • Choosing lower risk sexual activities, such as oral sex

    • Talking with your partner about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which is medicine your partner takes daily to prevent HIV

Reducing your risk for infection

If your HIV is well-controlled and your immune system is strong, your risk for infection is low. Infections are less common now than in the early days of HIV because treatments are better today, and people better understand and accept treatment. But it's important to know how to reduce your risk even further and stay healthy.

  • Follow a good diet and stay at a healthy weight. This will help protect your immune system. Talk with your healthcare provider about seeing a dietitian to help review your nutritional needs.

  • Exercise for endurance and to boost your immune system and your mental health.

  • Wash your hands often with clean, running water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner. Wash your hands before and after taking care of any cuts, scrapes, or wounds.

  • Know what germs you are exposed to. Some germs are more common in certain areas or from animals. Limit your exposure to farm, stray, or unknown animals.

    • If you do have contact with an animal, wash your hands afterward.

    • Don't have contact with pet urine or stool. Wear gloves if you might come in contact with pet urine or stool.

    • Don’t clean litter boxes, cages, or aquariums.

  • Don't eat undercooked, unpasteurized, or unwashed foods. This includes undercooked eggs, raw milk and cheeses, unpasteurized fruit juices, and raw seed sprouts.

  • Don’t smoke or use tobacco products. If you do, try to quit.

  • Don't drink untreated water, such as from a creek or river. If you travel to foreign countries, drink bottled water or use water filters.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to get medical care

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following:

  • Blurred vision or other eye problems

  • Trouble focusing

  • Tiredness that gets worse

  • Wheezing, trouble breathing, or shortness of breath

  • Fast, irregular heartbeat

  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded

  • Rash or hives

  • Cut or rash that swells, turns red, feels hot or painful, or begins to ooze

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your provider

  • Diarrhea that does not go away after 2 loose stools

  • Pain or cramping in your belly (abdomen)

© 2000-2023 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.