Q and A

Question

How long can I live if I’m taking HIV treatment (ART)?

Can HIV kill when you have an undetectable viral load? I’m doing well on medication and how long can i live to the cure? Lastly, why cant I stop thinking about my HIV status – first thing in the morning and also just before I fall asleep?

Polio have been eradicated but why cant scientists do the same for HIV?

Answer

The quick answer is that with modern HIV drugs (called ART) your life expectancy is likely to be similar to if you were HIV negative. The earlier someone is diagnosed and start ART, the quicker any damage from HIV can be reversed.

For most people, HIV is easy to treat and easy to manage.  ART can give you a normal life expectancy and an excellent quality of life.

Hw long anyone will live depends on things you can change (smoking, exercise, medication) and thing you can’t (genetics and luck).  A study in Denmark (2005) estimated that the survival is more than 35 years for a young person diagnosed with HIV infection and another study in Canada (2003) report that in the US, life expectancy at age 20 years was an additional 58.3 years.

As long as your CD4 count stays above 200 cells/mm3, the risk of most HIV complications is pretty low. At higher CD4 levels – above 350, or 500, or 700 – the risk becomes lower still. Although some health problems are slightly higher in HIV positive people compared to HIV negative people, these risks are also often reduced by ART.

If you continue to take your medication as prescribed and do not miss or taking doses late, then the risk of HIV health problems in the future s very low. However, just as HIV negative people become ill, lifestyle changes to reduce these risks are important if you are HIV positive. For example, keeping mentally and physically active, eating a balanced diet, resting well, not smoking etc).

Having HIV might not always be easy though. The shock of being diagnosed sometimes takes a long time to come to terms with and at the moment you are still working on this. Already, I am sure you feel better than when you were first diagnosed and this will continue to become easier every year.

Most people worry about the impact of HIV on their life.  This could bewhy you think about your HIV status on a daily basis.  If this continues to be difficult perhaps get in touch with a local support group or ask about counselling. Talking about your HIV status can help you to deal with it and also through group support you can share experiences and also learn from one another.  You do not have to deal with it in isolation.

Finally, you asked about research into a cure. HIV is very complex in a way that is different to polio. Although currently there is no vaccine or cure, there is a lot of ongoing research.

HIV treatment is one of the successes of modern medicine. The breadth and expertise in scientific advances has not only developed 30 medications in five drug classes but this research has contributed to many other areas of medicine.

Even though curing HIV is difficult, there are lots of reasons to be optimistic.

This question was updated in January 2018 from an original answer posted in November 2011. (See: Question 10 at this link for more information).

447 comments

  1. Roy Trevelion

    Hi Thabiso,

    Sorry, if you have just been diagnosed this can be a difficult time. But please see this link for info about how most of us feel when we test positive. I hope this can help you cope with your recent diagnosis.

    Have you started HIV treatment (called ART) yet? It is highly effective and generally easy to take. ART is now routinely recommended for anyone who is HIV positive. Effective ART also makes it difficult to pass HIV to other people.

    Looking after your health by stopping smoking can help. And it’s good that you don’t drink heavily. Here’s a guide to a having balanced diet, which is good for everyone of course.

  2. Thabiso

    Hi I have this sickness.but I onyx discovered now 3dys ago..after doing test blood.so wht I want to know is…am smoking and drinking.but not heavly smoke or drink.so it good for me to take those things.?

  3. Roy Trevelion

    Hi Georgina,

    Please see the similar question that Angelina answers here.

    It’s great that you started to take ARVs immediately. This can help look after your health and your baby’s health. For more information, here is the guide to HIV, pregnancy and women’s health.

  4. Georgina

    I am 6months pregnant and was diagnosed with HIV when I was 12weeks old during my pregnancy ad immediately introduced to meds ad my CD4 Count was 365,and after I met my hubby that’s June 2017 then personally went for HIV Test before I was negative… Then after being in a 1 year relationship with intimacy with him not using protection and became pregnant afterwards I tested positive and him negative and he lastly tested 3years ago. ..it came as a shock on where I could have caught this virus.

  5. Nomalanga’s

    Good

  6. Roy Trevelion

    Thanks for this Nomalanga’s.

  7. Nomalanga’s

    Um so glady to hear that
    Nd um so proud of u guys coz u are not scared to tell people about yr status HIV
    Is not killing anyone just avoid stress nje

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