Go back to school feeling great

The rate of increase in CD4 counts when on antiretroviral therapy are astonishing and help to decrease viral load. PLOS graphic.

by Mary Turner
HIV/AIDS Health Columnist

It’s August, and for many people, thoughts turn to get away on the last vacation opportunity before school starts back again. A change of scenery can be good for us.

Sometimes, people who are HIV+ wish for a different kind of vacation. Your wishful thinking might be that you could take a break from your treatment regimen. Remember, that’s only wishful thinking.

In the early days of the HIV epidemic, contracting the virus almost certainly meant you would develop AIDS and die quickly. Although scientists haven’t been able to develop a preventative or a cure, modern pharmacology has come a long way in treating the virus.

If you reduce your risk of infection and get tested frequently, you can begin a treatment protocol which can reduce your viral load and increase your CD4 cells and live a long, happy life.

Sometimes, though, you may wish for a life that didn’t have to be so structured around medication. Denial of our need for treatment is a reality for many of us with chronic health problems requiring us to wrap our daily lives around our treatment.

For example, I live with Type II diabetes, and I would love to eat without thinking about it and start my day without shots. However, the risk to my eyes, my organs, and my feet are too great.

Even so, I know that without my insurance, I couldn’t afford my medicine, and even my copays are a burden sometimes.

You may also get very tired of taking your meds, dealing with side effects, and struggling with costs or paperwork. Still, it is important to discuss your feelings with your health care professional before making such a drastic decision to quit your meds.

In the early 2000s, a Swiss HIV group did an 8-year study of almost 2,500 people. They found that people who interrupted antiretroviral therapy gained fewer CD4 cells and ran a higher risk of new AIDS diseases and death than people who took their antiretrovirals regularly.

Medication interruption also increased your chance of death. You don’t want to take those risks.

However, sometimes, doctors will give their patients a break from the medications. In doing so, you could put your health in jeopardy. As seen in the Swiss study, one fairly immediate risk is that your viral load can go up quickly which puts you at risk for opportunistic infections (OIs). Decades ago, it was these OIs which first clued people into the fact they had contracted HIV.

Today, if you’re diligent, you don’t have to worry about those. Work with your healthcare team. Talk to a friend if you’re feeling sad (or a therapist if you believe you may be depressed or just very angry).

Take your medicine as prescribed for you. Treat yourself well. And remember; every vacation has to end. Your life doesn’t have to.

Copyright The Gayly. 8/17/2019 @ 12:54 CST.