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When You're HIV-Positive: What to Say

Learning that you are HIV-positive can be traumatic and intensely stressful, although the diagnosis is not as terrifying as it used to be thanks to new and better drugs to treat it. Besides coping with your own reaction, you will need to decide whom to tell and how you'll tell them about your HIV status. In some cases, it will be better for you to share the information. In other cases, you may be required to tell, and sometimes it may be best to keep it to yourself. These are big decisions, and there are few hard-and-fast rules.

Older woman on telepjone

People you need to tell

In many states you are required to tell any current, past, and future sexual partners and anyone you may have shared needles with about your HIV status. You may also be required to tell medical caregivers. Telling doctors and dentists is a good idea in any case, because it means better medical care for you.

It's best to tell a current or future sexual partner about your HIV status in person. But if you are too uncomfortable contacting all the people you shared sex or needles with in the past, you can fulfill this obligation by having your local health department help you. The agency can disclose this information while keeping your identity confidential. Check with your local health department about your state's legal requirements.

Telling friends and loved ones

Not all friends and loved ones need to know. Since the main benefit for you is their understanding and support, you need to think about which trusted friends and family members are most likely to offer the support you need.

Here are tips that can help you in this process:

  • Be prepared emotionally. Before you disclose your HIV status, get some support and feedback from a trusted friend or counselor. Make sure you are ready to accept all the possible reactions to the news.

  • Be prepared with information. Loved ones may have lots of questions, so try to be prepared to answer them. Anticipate that people you tell may need time to adjust. They may also need support themselves, so be prepared to offer them resources.

  • Pick the right place and time. Make sure you share this information when you have enough time and privacy. Once you are ready, don't put it off. That only makes talking about it more difficult.

Telling your employer

If you are applying for a new job, the only thing your potential employer has the right to ask is if you are healthy enough to do the job. If you are already employed, you do not need to tell anybody at work about your HIV status, but there are some advantages to it that you might consider, especially if HIV illness or treatment interferes with work.

Here's what you need to know:

  • You are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. As long as you can do your job, your employer must make reasonable accommodations to help you.

  • Get a letter from your doctor explaining what kind of help you need. This could be extra rest or a change in your schedule or work assignments.

  • Tell your employer you want to keep working. Let him or her know if you want to keep your HIV status confidential.

  • If in doubt about your legal rights, talk to a benefits counselor or a legal expert.

If you are having a hard time telling anyone, Project Inform, an advocacy organization for people living with HIV/AIDS, suggests calling an HIV hotline and practicing by telling the trained and supportive people there. You can reach them at 800-822-7422 or online

Telling people about your HIV status can be extremely difficult, but once you have told the people who need to know, it can be a tremendous relief. You won't need to hide or be afraid any longer, and the relationships that really count should get closer and stronger. 

Last Reviewed Date: 07/20/2013
© 2000-2014 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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