Updated 25 June 2014

HIV Peer Forum FAQs

Our HIV Peer forum is an online community where users support and share their experience of living positively with HIV.


It is never easy to receive an HIV-positive test result. You experience feelings of fear, loss, grief, guilt, denial, anger, anxiety, and depression, but being properly informed means that you can live positively.

But being diagnosed with HIV is not the end of the world - remember that HIV infection is a chronic disease and can be managed very effectively.  Our HIV Peer Forum is a supportive community where users who are living with HIV share offer advice and share their experiences on living with the disease.

Take a look at the questions most frequently asked and how others have dealt with them.

For more expert advice visit CyberDoc and CyberShrink.

Q: My dad won’t disclose his status, I'm really worried about him.

I don't know if I worry too much or not, My Dad (49) is now HIV + and will not disclose. My Mom told me as I am the eldest. I am really worried about him, I want to help and support him, but how do I do that?

I stay in PTA and he is in another province.  Every time I go home, I can see the changes, he believes that Ntate Makhosi will assist as my Mom told me that he gave the Healer R4000.00 to cure the virus.  He is changing and I can't really say if it's the virus or maybe he is just getting old.  He has given up and now drinks almost every day - my mom is negative and she supports him all the way.

A: Tough love will have to do. Obviously your mom told you without his approval/consent, you need to find a way to convince your mom to allow you to break the ice. You cannot watch your dad fade away like so many we've lost along the way. You have to have that father-son/daughter talk on this. Sometimes fathers just don't listen to wives, but do listen to their children, especially if he trusts/sees you as being very mature. You have to find a way to talk to him and actually do something about it, i.e. support him through this. Tell him he has been there for you all your life, and all you ask now is that he lets you be there for him this time around.

Q: I will be starting treatment soon - what side effects can I expect?

I was diagnosed 2 weeks ago and my cd4 is 192 and I will be starting my treatments soon. I'm waiting for medical aid to finalise. I don't feel sick, but I do feel tired most of the time.
What I would really like to know is when you begin taking the medication, does it make you feel sick or is it different for every individual.

A:  I started mine a month ago and the side effects lasted about week, tiredness, nausea, sleepless nights, and bad dreams due to Atripla. The side effects vary, you will experience different ones according to your prescribed regime.I have done my liver and kidney test and also a pap-smear test - all are normal. My Dr and case manager recommended that I take Centrum multivitamins with my meds instead of all the other unproven immune boosters; I eat Pronutro and go to gym regularly. I suggest you take time off work before starting your meds so if you experience side effects at least you will be at home not at work. I took 5 days leave just to take my meds.

Q: How do I reduce my viral load?

Since 2005 when I found out about my status, the viral load has been in the range of 3000-5000 and CD4 count between 550 and 750. Yesterday when I got my results, the viral load has increased three fold, from 5000 to 19000. But my CD4 has slightly increased from 570 to 630. I must say, I have been through a hard time the past six months after a break up and more pressure at work. So, coming back to my question, what can I do to bring this value down? The stress has reduced and I am back at the gym. What can I drink or eat to help my body reduce the viral load?

A: I guess you are not on meds? The viral load cannot decrease on its own, it will only decrease when you are on ARV's. 19000 is nothing - mine was 900 000 when I started meds others are like millions. As your CD4 increases your viral load will decrease and eventually be undetectable when you are on ARV's not through supplements. Your CD4 is most likely to decrease and reach a point where you need to start your meds.We will all reach a stage whereby we have to take meds, I was also scared but all is fine.

Q: Where can I meet HIV+ men?

Where I can meet HIV positive men, does such a dating agency exist? I really would like to get back into the dating game, and prefer being with some-one who knows the struggles of living with the virus.

A:  I refuse to sell myself short just because I am HIV+. I use the same criteria I have been using before I was infected. Life is just the same, date the person not the status. I understand the main challenge about dating an HIV- person is the issue of disclosing. I am still going to have kids, marry and live happily. My status won't stop me from living the life God has intended for me and living my dream.  You will have a man to love and adore as you are, stay positive and believe in yourself. There are good men out there you will love you for you.

Q: To disclose or not?

Do you think people that disclose their HIV status to family are more relaxed/stress less that people that don' t disclose. I' m just asking this because I come from a family of very judgemental people and I just feel telling them will cause tension. What are the benefits of disclosing your status? I' m just worried because I'll be giving birth in April and obviously everyone will wonder why I' m not breastfeeding and in case baby has to be on meds, it will be very difficult to hide my status.

A: I kept my status from my family for a year my sister was the only one who knew.  It was a bit difficult maintaining a good diet and doing the necessary things, because they would always wonder or question my methods of doing things and it was a bit uncomfortable for me.

I always knew that if I were to tell my family my health would actually improve because of the support I would get from them, and indeed when I disclosed everything fell into place.  My whole family knows now and they try to help me eat healthy, even when I visit home they make sure my diet includes fruits and veggies and I don't have to sneak around when drinking my ARVs.

I'm just grateful to have people like them in my life. Sometimes people tend to be judgemental because they think it will never happen to them or anyone they love, but once they realise that it has, they embrace it.

Q: What is the best birth option in terms of low HIV transmission risk?

I'm 33 weeks and this is my first baby. I would like to find out which is the best birth option, in terms of lower risk of transmission of the HIV virus to the baby? Do doctors give you an option if you are HIV positive, or they just advice u to take the c-section route? I will be giving birth at a government hospital.

A: You don't have a choice at a government hosp, but they now normally just do c-sections for HIV + mamas. They did one for me too in 2006 and my baby is still negative. C-section is definitely better and safer for the baby.

Q: Have you experienced swollen lymph nodes behind the ears since being diagnosed?

A: Lymph nodes can be a symptom of infection and not everyone suffers from that. I must say in my 13 years I have never suffered from any. I had some swollen glands in 1995 under my armpits and next to my genitals, but they disappeared shortly afterwards.

Q: Can you develop swollen lymph nodes while on ARVs?

My son has been on ARVs for 10 months. He has recently developed swollen lymph nodes on his neck. Can you still get them even though you are on ARVs?

A: Yes you can still have swollen lymph nodes while on ARVs I just had an operation on two of them on the neck and on my underarm. They keep on coming I have had them for as long as I can remember. Tell your son not to worry we all have them at some stage. They become painful -l you must tell him not to touch them a lot because when you do they keep on growing.

Q: Are swollen lymph nodes a sign of HIV?

I have read that the swelling of lymph nodes behind the ears only occurs at about the middle stages of HIV infection.

A: Swollen lymph nodes just mean your body is fighting an infection. Could be anything HIV and gangrene. Just treat any underlying illness you might have and they should go away. Swollen lymph nodes happened before HIV and they will continue to be there even years after. This is the stigmatisation we should be fighting against.

Q: Is there a difference between super infection and re-infection, if so, what is it?

A: In virology, super infection is the process by which a cell, that has previously been infected by one virus, gets co-infected with a different strain of the virus, or another virus at a later point in time. Viral super infections of serious conditions can lead to resistant strains of the virus, which may prompt a change of treatment.

For example, an individual super-infected with two separate strains of the HIV virus may contract a strain that is resistant to antiretroviral treatment. The combined infection has also been shown to reduce the overall effectiveness of the immune response.

In medicine, super-infection is an infection following a previous infection, especially when caused by microorganisms that are resistant or have become resistant to the antibiotics used earlier.

Super-infection, according to Dorland's illustrated medical dictionary, is a condition produced by sudden growth of a type of bacteria, different from the original offenders in a wound or lesion under treatment.

Q: Can re-infection occur if both partners are HIV positive and have unprotected sex?

A: Re-infection is a term used to describe a new or secondary infection by a virus that has already infected a person. In most viral diseases, re-infection with the same virus doesn't occur because once the immune system conquers the original viral infection; it creates immunity against that virus. Re-infection occurs almost constantly, however, in some types of infection, such as the cold or flu viruses, because each new version of those new viruses is substantially different from the last. This is why a person may develop immunity to the flu strain that is common in one year, but still be at risk from the strain that becomes dominant the next year.

Co-infection with two different HIV strains (also called re-infection or super-infection) does indeed occur, and has been scientifically documented. How often this occurs and under what circumstances is still being evaluated.

Treatment in cases of super-infection is very complicated; one of the strains may be drug resistant.

 Q: Which ARV combo is the best?

I've been on lamzid and nevarapine since I was 8 months pregnnant 6 months ago. I've never had side effects.

A: I used the same meds when I was pregnant until I gave birth. The only thing bad thing I experienced was drowsiness during the first few days but I managed. My gynae prescribed the same meds together with nevaripine after the birth of our child who is doing well and negative. I suggest you ask a gynae who can also assist you.

Q: Do you have to have an HIV test to join a company's medical aid?

A: Not at all. Just join. Where you might need an HIV test is if your company provides group life assurance as one of the staff benefits. As in any life cover you have to test for this.



Q: Kaletra vs Truvada

I am resistant to Lamzid, Effivarenz and Purbac, and I have eventually managed to make the new Doc see that I need the new regimen. He has changed me to truvada, kaletra and purbac due to the fact that my vl counts yesterday had shot up to 516 000 and CD at 65.I am getting nervous. He told me it is a miracle that I am alive. He says this regimen I am moving to is highly toxic (strong in terms of side effects). Are any of you on this regime please share with me. I will be going for a couple of tests: monthly, three months then six months. Today I've got to do a creatine, glucose{fasting} and lipogram. They get concerned about lipids (fats) and so on. This all make me scared. I am worried by this resistance thing.

A: Your doctor was just scaring you. When I started ARVs my CD4 was 21, can't remember the viral load. I never had any AIDS defining illnesses like TB, Pneumonia and others even though my immune system was so weak. The regimen, you are on with kaletra being a protease inhibitor is great. You will see a great improvement in your viral load in 3 months. CD4 might take time to recover but as long as the virus is suppressed u will be fine. One thing to watch though in Kaletra is lipo, even though, is not such a major to some people...I would advise you to start getting fit if you were going to gym/jogging.

Q: Overseas travel with ARVs


Has anyone travelled overseas recently with ARVs in their luggage - especially to the UK, Europe or USA? Were you searched and did you have to explain what the meds were for - or did you have a doctor's note and what was the reaction of the airport officials at your destination? I have to travel on business shortly and I'm thinking of putting myself on a drug 'break' for those 2-3 weeks to avoid hassles.

A: In Europe I did not experience problems, check the internet regarding regulations on HIV travellers, some countries have them, and some will even require that information during your VISA application(e.g. China), I would not advise on going on a drug holiday, you not the only person with HIV who is travelling don't be scared.

Q: How long does it take to check someone's CD4 count?

How long does it take to check someone's CD4 count after confirming that they are actually HIV positive for them to get the proper 'dose' of meds (ARVs)?

A: You receive your results that you are HIV+ from your doctor, then he tells you a way forward immediately- which would be to do the CD4 count tests etc, that should happen the same time after you received your results, you don't have to wait for another time, the sooner you get them done the sooner you will start managing this. So you are in the doctor's room he just gave you the results, and took blood for CD4, he will tell you when to get the results, that depends if it's a provincial clinic it can take you between a week to a month sometimes to get results, if with a doctor (private) then it can be a matter of days. Depending on the results thereof, your doctor will tell you the next step, i.e. ARV route or not.

Q: How infectious is someone on PEP?

A: Why would you want to sleep with someone who had unprotected sex? The fact that PEP is administered means that person has done an antibody test which turned up to be negative. Assuming that the person that s/he slept with is HIV positive, PEP gets administered. It is crucial that the very same person who tested negative previously completes this course and practice safe sex ALWAYS.

Q: C-section or natural birth, what to do?

I am about to have a baby and I have pretty good results and I am torn between a natural birth and a c- section. With my results, the risk factor is still the same. Please give me your opinions from an experience point of view as I have bombarded myself with the medical point of view.

A: I have a 3 year old negative baby. I would have loved to have a natural birth, just to experience the process, however in deciding which route to take I realised that this was not just about me, could not handle the thought of having a positive baby as a result of my wish to have a natural birth, what I am trying to say is, whatever decision you make remember, it's no longer just about you, but what is and will be best for your unborn baby, although there are no guarantees, at least whatever happens you will have a clear conscious that you have done everything possible to protect your baby.

Q: What’s the lifespan of a HIV positive person?

I've just had my baby a couple of months ago and during the pregnancy got tested for the virus twice. The first came negative and the second my Dr never said anything so I assumed it was negative or else they would have protected the baby. Now I turned out positive after being tested again. What are the chances they could have missed it during my pregnancy and didn't protect my baby? I am scared to death to have him tested! I can live with ARVs but not my Angel! I read one guy has had the virus for over 2 decades and he's going strong, are those special cases or reachable if we take care of ourselves?

A: I have been living for 8 years with the virus no medication still healthy and stronger. I am planning to have another baby. My point of view to this is, it depends on one's immune system, how strong or weak it is. I always thought if one day it ends up that I am positive I will die quicker. I used to suffer from flu at least twice in winter and summer as well and I will be bed ridden. By then I was still negative. Now I am positive, but I am also finding it strange, why do I go stronger daily. Good luck with your LO, but please get him tested, the more you delay, it will affect you.

Q: How often should you do viral load and CD4 count tests?

Just after how long is it advisable to do the CD4 count -viral load test. Is a 3 month period really necessary, esp. if you have had a steadily improving CD4 of 500+? Can't one just go once a year like annual checkups or is that toying with your life?

A: I'm currently on meds and do my tests every 6 months as per the medical aid requests and even b4 I started with meds I used to do it every 6 months. My opinion is you should do it twice a year even if you feel like you are healthy just to make sure that you keep you health in check.

Q: Must I disclose my HIV status to my boss?

I found out I was HIV positive when I was admitted to hospital with pneumonia. My CD4 count was 69. I have since started ARVs. Am I supposed to disclose my status to my boss who can I withhold this information?

A: You don't have to if you're not ready to tell your boss, just take good care of yourself.

Q: How accurate is the PCR test?

I just want to find out how accurate the PCR test is, I tested negative for both HIV test and PCR test. I had an exposure with my HIV + partner. Is it possible that I might still test + and another thing how safe is it to be involved with the positive person. I really love this guy but would any of you continue with the + person if you were negative.

A: PCR is very effective, so you are still negative. There is nothing wrong with being in love with an HIV+ person as long you use protection. It's just the same as being lovers with someone of unknown status, risks are equal. And if you will take every Tom and Dick to get them tested, you will just scare them off, and there are few cases of getting true negatives, most people who always disclose are positive, the rest is not tested.

Q: I have just tested for HIV, could you please help me with understanding my results.


I have tested for HIV and got result back as follows: HIV rapid screening – positive, Type I and II 4 Generation – reactive. I was told to go further testing but I'm not quite clued since nothing was explained to me because I was in shock, I couldn't talk. I have been married for 14 years and discovered that my hubby soon to be ex has multiple affairs. I' m still in shock haven't told anyone not even my children as I do not how. Please help understand the terms and where to go for counselling.

A: Your results mean you are HIV positive. The best thing to do now is to understand how your body works and educate yourself as much about your condition. Don't despair this might be the start of a new positive satisfying living when you will appreciate this life and with the meds available these days, death AIDS isn't even a chance. Don' t rush and tell your kids they might not be able to handle it, just deal with it and as long as you are well there is no reason for any1 to know as you will just live normal and even better.

Interpretation of Test Results 

A positive (reactive) result means:

* You are HIV-positive (carrying the virus that causes AIDS).
* You can infect others who come into contact with your blood, semen or vaginal fluid. You should take necessary precautions to avoid transmitting HIV to others.

A positive result does NOT mean:

* You have AIDS.
* You will necessarily get AIDS.
* You are immune to AIDS, even though you have antibodies.

A negative (non-reactive) result means:

* No HIV antibodies were found in your blood at this time.

A negative result does NOT mean:

* You are not infected with HIV (you may still be in the "window period" ).
* You are immune to HIV.
* You have a "resistance" to infection.
* You will never get HIV.

An indeterminate result (which is rare) means:

* The Western Blot (WB) result is unclear. The entire HIV test must be repeated with a new blood sample, usually several weeks after the first blood test.
* Indeterminate results usually occur if the test is performed just as the person begins to seroconvert.



(Health24, updated April 2011)

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From bug chasing to denial

How things got so bad


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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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