Frequently asked questions about living with HIV

HIV postive people can live a normal life. In the photo two people are laying down in each others arms and looking each other lovingly.

Page last reviewed 28.12.2021

Living with HIV can raise many questions concerning for example quality of life and sexuality.

Am I going to live as long as everyone else?

As long as you are taking your HIV medication, your life expectancy is the same as it would be without HIV. When you take your medication regularly you can live as long as a person who does not have HIV. Without HIV medication the life expectancy of a person who has HIV is 10-12 years from the contraction.

The progress of your HIV infection depends on many things. The time it stays undetected, the medication you take, the virus’ resistance to medicine and your immunity, age, possible other diseases and other factors can affect how HIV develops in your body.

Is there a cure for HIV?

There is no cure for HIV at the moment.

If you are living with HIV, you need antiretroviral treatment for HIV. HIV treatment can control the virus, meaning that people with HIV can live long and healthy lives.

HIV treatment can reduce the level of HIV in their body to such a low amount that a person living with HIV is unable to pass it on (“an undetectable viral load”). Having an undetectable viral load can keep person with HIV healthy, but it’s not a cure for HIV. To maintain an undetectable viral load a person must keep adhering to their antiretroviral treatment!

There has been a lot of research trials that are looking for a cure for HIV (a functional cure where HIV is permanently reduced to undetectable and harmless levels in the body, or a sterilising cure where HIV is removed from the body completely). No cure has been found yet and a combination of approaches is likely to be needed. Trials of HIV vaccines has been encouraging, but so far not a solution. Researchers and scientists believe we can find a cure for HIV, but it is difficult and complicated and it is not in sight in the near future.

What is HIV treatment like?

The treatment for HIV is always planned by a doctor who is specialized in infectious diseases. The medication is started as soon as possible after the HIV diagnosis. You will have to take the medication for the rest of your life. Taking the medication regularly is essential for your treatment to be successful. When taking your HIV medication, you can live a long and fulfilling life and stay healthy. A person living with HIV who takes their medication regularly and has an undetectable viral load can not transmit HIV.

Today there are many medicine options available. It’s good to discuss your options with your doctor to find the one that fits you. You should tell your doctor about all the side effects and challenges you face with the medication to find a better match for your needs.

The drugs used to treat HIV are called antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). There are several different types and they work in different ways. HIV treatment is made up of three or more antiretroviral drugs, normally combined into one pill. These allow many people to take their HIV treatment in one tablet, once a day. There is also a new long-acting and injectable HIV treatment available.

What can I do if I’ve faced discrimination?

If you have faced discrimination or inappropriate treatment, you can get help and support to resolve the situation by contacting the patient ombudsman with the help of Hivpoint. You can bring the discrimination forward to other officials and instances. If you feel you were discriminated in healthcare you can bring the incident forward to patient ombudsman, equality ombudsman or regional state administrative agency (AVI).

Can I travel even if I have HIV?

People living with HIV can travel almost everywhere, but some countries have restrictions for long term stay. When planning your travels, you should check the destination country’s restrictions from the UNAIDS website.

Do I need to tell my employer about my HIV infection?

You don’t need to tell your employer about your HIV status. HIV infection doesn’t stop you from having a job. People living with HIV can work in most professions, even in social- and healthcare.

In some professions there are restrictions about medication or state of health of the employee. For example it’s not possible to work as a peacekeeper if you have HIV.

You can tell about your HIV infection in occupational health care if you wish. For you to get the best possible treatment it would be good to tell the doctor about all your chronic illnesses and medications. All doctors and health care employees are bound by confidentiality laws. This means that an employer can’t hear about your HIV status from the occupational health care. Your employer cannot ask you to take an HIV test.

In working environments it’s illegal to discriminate someone for their state of health.

Who should I disclose my HIV status?

You have the right to decide to whom you want to disclose your HIV status. It is good to know that you are not alone, and it would be important to find someone to discuss confidentially about HIV. This person may be a professional or another person living with HIV. You can get support for example from Hivpoint or from the patient and advocacy organisation HIV Finland.

Not disclosing one´s HIV status to the sex partner has led to criminal sanctions in the near past. However, the desired change has been made in 2021, when the Supreme Court in Finland made a significant preliminary ruling on the matter. According to the preliminary ruling, it can be assumed that a person living with HIV does not have to disclose their HIV status to their sex partner if they have been on HIV treatment for 6 months or longer and the viral load is undetectable (less than 200 copies/ml) even if the sex has been condomless.

Can I still have sex?

Yes! We all have the right to a healthy and fulfilling sex life. HIV doesn’t affect this right and people living with HIV can have sex. It’s important to remember to take your medications regularly. When you take your medication regularly, your virus levels stay undetectable. When your viral level is undetectable, you cannot transmit the virus to anyone. Even during unprotected sex.

The Hivpoint position is that prevention of sexually transmitted infections is everyone’s responsibility when the sexual activity is entered into on an equal footing and is consensual. Although there would not be a risk for HIV transmission, unprotected sex comes with the risk of other STIs.

Hivpoint’s position is that a person living with HIV should not face legal consequences if they do not inform about the HIV infection, when there is no risk for transmission. Read more about Hivpoint’s position here (in Finnish).

How a new long-acting and injectable HIV treatment works? How can I get it?

Long-acting and injectable HIV treatment is currently an option for daily tablet dosing. Long-acting injectable medication is suitable for people living with HIV who have already responded well to other HIV medications. Talk to your doctor about your wishes to change your HIV treatment.

The new injectable treatment is a combination of two antiretroviral (ARV) medicines, cabotegravir and rilpivirine. There are three stages in the initiation of the treatment, first of which involves taking two tablets a day for approximately a month. The tablets consist of the same drugs as the injections and the purpose of the table phase is to follow the suitability of the treatment method to the individual. If the patient and health care staff are satisfied with the reaction to this first phase, can initial injections be given on the last day of tablet treatment. Another set of initial injections are given after one month. In the last phase of the treatment injections are given every two months. Again, the patient will receive two injections every two months and daily tablets will no longer be required.

It is important to maintain regularity of injections and it is recommended that shots will be taken on the same day of the month if possible.

Possible obstacles: according to current knowledge, injectable long-acting HIV medication is not recommended during pregnancy as the effects on the fetus or on the course of pregnancy are not well known.

Ageing with HIV

Now that effective HIV treatment is available, many people living with HIV are living long and healthy lives. In fact, with the right treatment and care, you can expect to have a more or less normal life expectancy with HIV.

Even with treatment, people living with HIV can’t avoid the normal effects of ageing. But there are many things you can do to look after yourself and stay healthy into old age.

There is evidence that older people living with HIV have a greater risk of developing certain age-related illnesses, for instance type two diabetes, osteoporosis, and memory problems.

t’s important to have regular health check-ups and ask your healthcare professional to monitor your blood and urine tests for signs of any problems.

If you’ve been newly diagnosed with HIV later in life, it’s important to start antiretroviral treatment (ART) as soon as possible to avoid developing age-related health problems.

How can I stay healthy with HIV?

  • Take your antiretroviral treatment for HIV as prescriped. Early started HIV treatment is the best way of ensuring that your immune system stays strong.
  • It’s important to have regular health check-ups and visit your doctor regularly. Talk to your doctor about your health issues and feel free to ask questions.
  • Make sure your other medications and supplements are compatible with your HIV medication.
  • Eat a balanced and nutritious diet.
  • Keep your body moving, exercise and keep fit.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol or drug use.
  • Remember that you are not alone! Ask for support from friends and family. Both professional and peer support are available in all stages of life.

What if I did not get an answer to my question?

Please do not hesitate to contact us and discuss your needs as a person living with HIV.