Health conditions

Living with HIV – responsibilities to yourself and others

  • People living with HIV, can lead a full and healthy life. They can have sex, have children, work, play sport and make plans for the future.
  • When people have HIV they have to make some choices and accept some responsibility to protect their own health, and the health of others.

This information will help you with some of the choices and responsibilities you will face. It also provides a list of services where you can get more information and help, including support groups, counsellors, and doctors.

Download this information as a PDF factsheet (872KB).
Health

Your Health

Looking after your health is important. It helps to find a doctor you trust and feel comfortable with because you may need to see them regularly. As well as your specialist-HIV doctor, you will probably need to see a general practitioner (GP) from time to time for things not necessarily to do with having HIV, such as treating blood pressure or asthma. By law, you do not have to tell your doctor, dentist, or other health professionals that you have HIV. However, by letting them know, they can help ensure you get the right treatment. If you are taking HIV medications, it may be important to let your GP know, because some other medicines may interfere with your HIV treatment. In general, having a balanced diet and being physically active will help you stay healthy. If you are thinking of starting a special diet, or taking any vitamins or supplements, you should discuss this with your HIV doctor first. Taking care of how you are feeling is important, and if you are feeling anxious, depressed or unhappy, talk to your GP or HIV doctor.

Responsibility to others

If you are thinking of donating blood, sperm, or any other body tissue or organ, you need to discuss your plans with your doctor first.

Medication

Your medication

Your HIV doctor will start you on HIV medication, which you will need to take every day. Taking HIV medication keeps your immune system healthy and reduces the amount of HIV in your body. Taking your medication every day means you can live with HIV and stay healthy.

Responsibility to others

Taking HIV medication as directed by your doctor greatly reduces the amount of HIV in your body and the chances of infecting others. You should keep your medication in a safe place, where you can take it every day. Do not give your medication to anyone else to take.

Work

Your work

Going to work can be good for your health and wellbeing. In Australia, there are laws which protect you from discrimination. This means that you can go to work, and no-one can discriminate against you because you have HIV.

Responsibility to others

Your HIV status may affect what you can do in some jobs (for example, if your work involves contact with blood or other bodily fluids). You can talk about whether your HIV status will affect your work with your HIV doctor or nurse, or someone from one of the organisations at the end of this fact sheet. This will help you make a decision about whether you need to tell your employer you have HIV.

Sex

Your sex life

You can have a satisfying and safe sex life. Always use a condom to protect you and your partner. Having unsafe sex (i.e. sex without a condom) can put you at risk of getting other infections.

Responsibility to others

It is advisable to talk to your sexual partner about your HIV status. Sometimes the decision to tell a sexual partner about your HIV status may feel difficult, and seeking some advice from the organisations listed at the end of this fact sheet can help. Whether you choose to tell your sexual partner or not, you should always use a condom with water-based lubricant when having sex.

If you have unsafe sex or a condom breaks, there is special treatment that may lower the risk of your partner getting HIV. This treatment is called post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP, and it must be taken as soon as possible within 72 hours of having sex (phone 1300 767 161 for 24-hour advice and referral).

There may also be an option for your regular partner to take a special treatment called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). This is not the same as PEP. You should talk to your HIV doctor about whether this option will work for your partner and your situation.

Children

Choosing to have children

If you and/or your partner are HIV-positive, you can still choose to have children. Your HIV doctor will be able to explain the different options available that can help you to have a child. These days there are many HIV-negative children born to HIV-positive mothers or fathers.

Responsibility to others

It is important that you talk to your HIV doctor before trying to have a baby. There are ways of lowering the chance of your partner and your baby getting HIV.

Home

Your home

You need to live somewhere where you feel safe. In Australia, it is illegal for housing providers to discriminate against you because you have HIV and you do not need to tell a housing provider that you have HIV. Some of the organisations listed at the end of this fact sheet may be able to help you find suitable accommodation.

Responsibility to others

You can live safely with other people, including sharing the kitchen and bathroom. Family members, housemates, and friends are not at risk of getting HIV unless you have unsafe sex or blood-to-blood contact with them. Never share razors, toothbrushes or your own personal items that could have your blood on them. If you cut yourself accidently, or your blood spills somewhere, just clean the area carefully and be sure to cover your cuts.

Leisure and sport

Being physically active

Playing a sport or choosing to be part of a social group is likely to be good for both your physical and mental health.

Responsibility to others

If you are injured and bleed in any way while playing sport, stop playing until the bleeding stops and the wound is cleaned and covered.

Drugs

If you take drugs

Taking drugs, other than those your doctor prescribes can have harmful effects on your health. If you inject drugs, sharing injecting equipment may put you at risk of getting other infections. Different kinds of legal or illegal drugs can also have an effect on your HIV medications. Talking to your HIV doctor or your GP about your drug use can assist them in helping you to find ways to manage your general health. They can also provide you with options for reducing or stopping your drug use.

Responsibility to others

If you inject drugs, never share needles, syringes or other injecting equipment. Sharing any injecting equipment will put others at risk of getting HIV from you. For more information about safer drug use, refer to the organisations listed at the end of this fact sheet. There is less risk of transmitting HIV if you swallow, smoke, snort, sniff, or use suppositories to take drugs instead of injecting the drug. If you snort drugs, or use suppositories, make sure you use your own equipment that is for your use only.

Post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP may stop someone getting HIV from a needle with HIV-positive blood. PEP drugs must be taken as soon as possible within 72 hours of the incident (phone 1300 767 161 for 24-hour advice and referral).

Law

By law, HIV-positive people cannot be discriminated against or treated differently from others in terms of work, housing and the provision of goods and services.

With very few exceptions, no-one can inform other people about your HIV status. If you think you have been treated differently, or that your privacy has been broken, refer to the support groups listed at the end of this fact sheet for help

By law, there are very few situations when you must disclose your HIV status. For more information visit the WA AIDS Council website (external site).

However, if you know you have HIV and you infect another person, then you may be breaking the law. The Department of Health has to protect the public from certain infectious diseases, including HIV. Contact the Western Australian AIDS Council to find out where you can go for legal advice.

Where to get help

More information

  • Your general practitioner, specialist or medical service
Organisation Phone
Sexual Health Quarters WA (external site)
(08) 9227 6177
Sexual Health Help Line
(08) 9227 6178 or 1800 198 205 (country callers)
PEP Line
1300 767 161 (24-hour advice and referral)
Royal Perth Hospital, Sexual Health Clinic
(08) 9224 2178
Royal Perth Hospital Immunology Triage Nurse
(08) 9224 2899
Fremantle Hospital, South Terrace Clinic (external site)
(08) 9431 2149
Fiona Stanley Hospital, Department of Infection and Immunity
(08) 6152 4055
Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service (external site)
East Perth
Maddington
Midland
Mirrabooka

(08) 9421 3888
(08) 9452 5333
(08) 9374 1400
(08) 9344 0444

Acknowledgements

Sexual Health and Blood-borne Virus Program, Public Health

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