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).

469 comments

  1. Lisa Thorley

    Hi,

    In some countries if your CD4 count is below 350 you’ll be given antibiotics. If you’re CD4 count is higher than 350, then you shouldn’t need any antibiotics. You will however need to discuss this with your doctor.
    We aren’t in a position to connect people who wish to have relationships, sorry.

  2. Hadassah

    I only use the ARV pill without using the antibiotic,, can it be a risk…and please,do you connect people into relationships,,am 27 with a daughter but she’s negative .

  3. Lisa Thorley

    Hi Paballo,

    Scientists all over the world are working towards a cure for HIV. However its a very difficult virus to cure. For now we have ARVs. Though there is a need to take these daily, they really do control a persons HIV.

  4. Paballo

    How can science make ARV but can’t find cure.can’t they add a certain amount of drugs to make a cure?Make ARV more stronger to produce a cure

  5. Roy Trevelion

    Hi Kenny,

    As you can see from Simon’s answer above, with modern HIV drugs (called ART) your life expectancy is likely to be similar to if you were HIV negative. So that’s good news for you and your girlfriend.

    Has your girlfriend been taking ART? There’s a lot of info in this Introdution to ART.

    The other good news is that once she is on ART, and her viral load result is staying undetectable, then HIV cannot be transmitted even if you don’t use condoms. You can read all about Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U) at this link.

  6. Kenny

    I and my girlfriend whom I want to marry soon went for HIV test and she was tested positive while I’m negative. We also went for a confirmatory test and the results came out same way, positive/negative…Now I’m really confused, should I continue with my marriage plans with her or would it be a big risk for me?

  7. Roy Trevelion

    Hi Asmee,

    What country do you live in, and do you have access to HIV treatment (ART)?

    People who are HIV positive can eat all types of food. A balanced diet is good for everyone, including if you’re HIV positive. Here’s a link to a guide to a balanced diet and your health.

    Starting ART can help protect your partner from HIV. And once your viral load stays undetectable the risk to your partner is zero. Please see U=U. And yes, it is possible for you to get married.

  8. Asmee

    Pls I need u too help me about this HIV what types of food can I eat and I have a person who love me but he is negative is it possible for us to get married

  9. Lisa Thorley

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