What happens if I don’t seek treatment for HIV?

You know the answer. You’ve heard it gazillion times: “HIV is incurable. If you don’t get treated, you’ll die too young.”

Of course, that sounds like a scare tactic. You may have lost friends and family before their time. Car crashes, accidents, gunfire — there are all sorts of ways to go that don’t include old age or natural causes.

But to deal with HIV, you can’t think about death. It’s too scary and depressing.

Instead, you have to think about life: Making yours last as long as you can.

When you get into treatment, you stand an excellent chance of living as long as anybody else does. If you don’t get treated, you’ll only get sicker and sicker. And not getting treated may even cause problems for others: spreading the virus.

When you’re the boss of your body, you understand you won’t live forever. But there’s no sense in causing a bunch of problems you know how to prevent.


What HIV does if you don’t stop it

HIV destroys a certain kind of cell that your immune system needs to fight off diseases. Scientists call them CD4 cells, or t-cells. CD4 cells don’t fight the infection themselves. Instead, they alert the immune system, which sends soldiers called antibodies to attack invaders.

Here’s the messed-up thing about HIV: Instead of attacking the antibodies, HIV attacks the alarm system. Without CD4 cells to sound the alarm, your immune system doesn’t even know it’s under attack.

HIV works in stages. At first, it causes a nasty viral infection. Some people living with HIV = remember it as the worst case of the flu they’ve ever had. But that infection goes away, and they feel healthy again.


The long slow march to AIDS

It turns out your body has more than enough CD4 cells to fight off the first stage of an HIV infection. The trouble comes with all the stages after that.

Over the course of many years, HIV keeps attacking your CD4 cells. Eventually, HIV kills so many CD4 cells that the immune system doesn’t work right anymore. That’s when you develop AIDS.

With AIDS, you start getting rare cancers. A minor lung infection can turn into pneumonia that fills your lungs with fluid and drowns you.

AIDS is what freaks people out about HIV. It’s a nasty way to go that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

With HIV treatment, your risk of AIDS goes way, way down. And your odds of living a long, healthy life go way, way up. (And there’s this bonus: Even if you have AIDS, today’s meds can get you healthy again and add years to your life.)


Passing HIV to other people

Nobody can force you to take HIV treatments. Eventually, you’ll get so sick that you feel like crap 24 hours a day and get so weak you can barely walk. But hey: It’s your body, and your choice.

It’s one thing to let yourself go that way. It’s something else to infect other people.

Everybody gets that. You don’t do something you wouldn’t want done to you.

But life gets complicated. You could say, “I’ll make sure I use a condom every time I have sex.” But what if things get hot and heavy and you don’t have a condom available? Or you could be buzzed from too much beer and wine — and forget to use one.

Next thing you know, your partner has HIV too.

Or, let’s say you inject drugs. Can you be sure you’ll never share needles again? One slip could infect the people you may also use the drugs with.

It’s not that you would infect somebody on purpose. It’s just that accidents happen when the urge for sex or drugs takes over your brain.

If you get into HIV treatment and stay with it for at least six months, it’s essentially impossible to infect somebody else. Scientists have proved it in multiple studies.


Protecting what you have

The Be Boss outlook is that your life is precious. Other people value it as well. They need you around to help them make it through life.

So, you’re not just in this for yourself. You’re in it for everybody.

When you get into HIV treatment, you’re giving yourself a future. That includes staying in school, getting a better job, settling down with a life partner, starting a family, and all the other stuff people do.

Everything you do for yourself to fight HIV helps everybody you know, and everybody they know.

When you’re the boss, you see why you need to get into care soon — and to stay there for the rest of your life. You deserve it. And so does everybody else.

You’re the Boss of your body. If you have a question or concern please contact us for information about STI testing and treatment or other health services.

HIV walk-in testing hours:
Mon – Thurs 1 pm – 7 pm
HIV Services (216) 707-3448

STI walk-in medical testing:
Wed  11 am – 3:30 pm
Thurs 9 am – 11:30 am

PrEP or STI medical testing by appointment:
(216) 721-4010

Testing Location:
Circle Health Services
12201 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44106

Please visit www.circlehealthservices.org for more information or e-mail info@circlehealthservices.org.