Living with HIV

The life expectancy of people with HIV has increased and is similar to people without HIV. If you are being treated and you are otherwise healthy, you can function normally in society.

In the beginning, if you just know you have HIV, you will have to get used to the idea and everything that comes with it. HIV is an infection of which allot of people in large parts of society are still afraid of, this is because of the HIV stigma.

Many people are afraid of people with HIV instead of HIV itself. You can find information and get support from various agencies. Over time, more and more puzzle pieces fall into place. And if your HIV treatment works well for a longer period of time, you will find more peace living with HIV. You no longer let HIV lead your life, but you lead your life around HIV. Allot of new questions can arise with changes in your life or health situation.

Who do I tell about my HIV infection?

You will want to tell the people who are dear to you that you have been infected with HIV. Please keep in mind that you are never required to tell about your HIV status. In your daily life, people in your direct area are at no risk of getting HIV. So the choice to tell is always yours.

You will have to consider to what extent you consider it is important to inform others in your area. Keep in mind that not all people respond compassionately. People with HIV might experience negative responses. Consider, for example, anger, rejection or discrimination.

Realize that many unpleasant reactions arise from ignorance and unjust fears about HIV. Because people are hardly confronted with HIV in daily life, they often have unrealistic fears about the risk of infection. It can help if you point them to information about HIV.

HIV at work

You are not required to tell an employer that you have HIV. You also do not have to disclose your HIV status when applying. Only if you have certain complaints that could affect your work, you should you name them.

General practitioner and dentist

Healthcare providers also do not always have to know whether someone has HIV. Whether it’s your dentist, first aid person, nurse or doctor. All medical professionals adhere to hygienic regulations in their work, because they must protect themselves against various infectious diseases. Take hepatitis for example. This infectious disease is many times more infectious than HIV.
Usually, GPs know whether their patients have HIV, unless someone has explicitly indicated that the doctor is not allowed to know. With regard to your overall health, it is good if your doctor is aware of your HIV infection.

What about the chance of other diseases? What are the consequences of aging with HIV?

Thanks to good medication, people with HIV can lead a long and healthy life. At the same time, the risk of related age diseases and other (not AIDS-related) diseases is higher.

In the Netherlands for example, one third of people with HIV are older than fifty. Research shows that people with HIV are more likely to develop old-age diseases. Think of heart attacks and osteoporosis. For about ten years they are ‘ahead’ of people without HIV.
In addition, the risk of other chronic diseases is higher if you have HIV. Many problems can be prevented by starting HIV treatment on time. And by detecting and treating old-age diseases in time.

Old-age diseases

People with HIV are more likely to have a chronic disease associated with aging. This concerns cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, reduced kidney function, diabetes, bone loss, anus cancer and other forms of cancer.

A weak immune system

In any case, a weak immune system plays a role and causes diseases. A weak immune system increases the chance of cardiovascular disease, severe kidney and liver damage and certain cancers. But much still remains to be explored. To what extent is it due to the virus itself, or is it just the fact that HIV is a chronic disease that keeps the immune system constantly working?  We still don’t know exactly.


Many diseases also have a relationship with lifestyle. For example, smoking leads to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and lung cancer. But it is not that these diseases for people living with HIV are higher due to smoking.

Certain cancers are partly caused by viruses that are transmitted through unsafe sex. This applies to cervical cancer, anus cancer and liver cancer due to hepatitis B or C. Anyone who has an HIV infection due to unsafe sex will also have a high risk in having hepatitis B or C.

Increase in hepatitis C

Hepatitis C has recently been increasing among gay men with HIV. It is a serious liver disease that has not been known for so long as being sexually transmitted.

About the author – Dr. H.S. Hermanides
Dr. H.S. Hermanides obtained a PhD for her research on HIV in the Caribbean. She is currently working as a specialist in infectious diseases at the Red Cross Hospital in Beverwijk, The Netherlands.