Is HIV a Death Sentence?


Hi, this is Dr. Becky Kuhn. Iím a physician who specializes in HIV/AIDS. Welcome to ďIs HIV a Death Sentence?Ē


Weíve noticed that people commenting on our videos sometimes refer to an HIV diagnosis as a death sentence. Others who are awaiting the result of an HIV test have even commented that if their HIV test turns out to be positive, they plan to take their own life.


Itís important to realize that an HIV diagnosis is NOT a death sentence. Early on in the HIV/AIDS pandemic, people sometimes viewed it that way because of the lack of treatment and resulting deaths. But even then, some people with HIV did not progress to clinical AIDS and are still alive today.


When a person is diagnosed with HIV, itís impossible to predict precisely what the course of that individualís infection will be. There are many variables involved. Some individuals progress to clinical AIDS faster, others progress more slowly. Every personís immune system is different, as are the types of HIV virus. Some peopleís immune system can keep HIV in check longer than others and some variant types of HIV can have a greater impact than others.


Itís possible to talk about averages. For example, in the developed world, the median time between initial infection with HIV and the development of clinical AIDS symptoms may be as long as ten years. But averages say little about what a particular individualís experience will be. They may progress more slowly or more quickly than the average.


People can also make wise choices that will improve their chances of living a long, healthy life even if they are HIV positive. If a person gets tested for HIV, learns they are HIV positive, and follows their doctorís instructions, including the use of antiretroviral medications where appropriate, they may be able to prevent HIV from progressing to clinical AIDS for years, decades, or possibly for the rest of their life.


People who are HIV positive can also improve their chances for a long, healthy life by taking care of their general health. Getting adequate sleep, eating a healthy, balanced diet, and exercising regularly may all help improve the functioning of their immune system.


So if youíve been diagnosed with HIV, donít panic. HIV isnít a death sentence; itís more a matter of taking care of your health and following your doctorís instructions.

There are many people who have medical conditions that require management and nonetheless live long, healthy, happy lives. You can too. If youíve been diagnosed with HIV, ask your doctor what you should do and follow their instructions.


If you HAVENíT been diagnosed with HIV and are reluctant to get tested because youíre afraid the test might turn out to be HIV positive, talk with someone you trust and have them go with you when you get tested. Ignorance leaves you vulnerable; knowledge is power. If you donít know your HIV status, get tested. If you get tested and turn out to be HIV negative, you can take steps to make sure you stay that way. On the other hand, if you get tested and turn out to be HIV positive, you can work with your doctor to do everything in your power to prevent HIV from progressing to clinical AIDS. If you donít get tested, are HIV positive, and wait until HIV progresses to clinical AIDS to get tested and treated, it may be harder to regain your full health than if you had sought testing, monitoring, and treatment earlier. So whoever you are, get tested.


And above all, donít make any rash decisions like taking your own life! If you are experiencing depression, ask your doctor about safe and effective treatments for clinical depression. If you are having suicidal thoughts, go to the nearest emergency room and ask to be evaluated. Suicidal ideation is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical evaluation.


HIV is not a death sentence. New types of medications are being introduced on a regular basis. If youíre HIV negative, do everything in your power to stay that way. But if youíre HIV positive, just work with your doctor to maintain your health and achieve a long, healthy, satisfying life. This is Dr. Becky Kuhn.



Script written by Eric Krock and Becky Kuhn, M.D.


This script was reviewed for scientific and medical accuracy and approved by Becky Kuhn, M.D. on March 21, 2008.




ďHIV Infection Progresses To AIDS Quicker In Developing Countries,Ē Science Daily, 28 April 2004,