Possibly HIV Positive -- Now What
January 28, 2013 11:32 AM   Subscribe

I may have HIV and I don't know what to do about it.

I have been getting sick a lot lately, and for the last few months I have only had maybe two or three weeks where I genuinely feel 100%. For a while I thought maybe this was just the luck of the draw and that all the YIs, BVs, colds, sinus infections, sudden lactose intolerance, and fatigue were just happenstance. They may still be.

However... there is a possibility that I may have contracted HIV from what was ultimately a nebulous, semi-sexual assault experience last March. I am at a loss about what to do right now because I feel lousy and flu-ish and am scared of going in for the blood test my gyno ordered a few weeks ago because I can't bear to be poked and prodded anymore. My parents will be ashamed of me for being sexually active in the first place and the guy that I am dating and am really falling for will likely break up with me if I test positive. I still don't know what to do about the fact that I was exposed during sex that I consented to initially but didn't want to continue with but did anyway because I was afraid that the guy I was with would hurt me.

My heart is breaking from fear. What can I do right now?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (50 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Get tested.
posted by absalom at 11:35 AM on January 28, 2013 [22 favorites]

Not being tested will not solve the problem. You'll continue to have anxiety until you know the truth of the matter, you'll also be putting people at risk (or limiting your intimacy needlessly if you're NOT HIV+).

Get the test, then you can move forward with the reality of the situation.
posted by HuronBob at 11:36 AM on January 28, 2013 [11 favorites]

You absolutely must take an HIV test. It's the only thing that will settle the issue and help you feel better- if you don't have it, then, yay, and if you do have it, there is treatment to help manage the illness, and the sooner you know, the better your treatment options are. Good luck, dear! Big hugs.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:36 AM on January 28, 2013 [13 favorites]

First, you have to know if you have HIV. Get tested. No matter what kind of fallout comes from your parents and boyfriend happens, knowing for certain whether or not you have HIV will let you make better decisions regarding them and, more importantly, regarding your health. Go into survival mode and forget everything else.
posted by ignignokt at 11:37 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

please get tested, and ask your doctor about treatment options and perhaps a referral to a counselor who can help you with paralyzing feelings of fear in this difficult situation. if you are sexually active with your partner, use protection every time.
posted by zdravo at 11:38 AM on January 28, 2013

The two things you need to do (okay, one thing you need to do and one thing you probably should do) are get tested for HIV and talk to a therapist whether or not you are positive.

When you say you may have contracted HIV last March, is it because you know for a fact the other party has HIV? Or simply because there was no protection used? Because while you need to get tested either way the answer to that question radically alters how concerned you should be about the results of the test.
posted by Justinian at 11:39 AM on January 28, 2013

You get tested. And you talk to a counselor. There might be one available at the clinic where you get tested (this is a job I used to do.)

One way to think of it is that the problems that come with having untreated HIV are much much worse than those that come with having treated HIV, even if the latter seems especially scary right now. Not knowing will not make the problem go away.

I'm curious if someone else has told you that you might have HIV. You may have HIV, and it is possible that your current health problems are as a result of HIV contracted 10 months ago, but it's unlikely. Acute HIV syndrome, which occurs for some people when they contract the disease, and which can present like the flu, happens soon after infection. After that, it's typically years before HIV significantly affects your immune response. What I'm trying to say is that your fear that you have HIV does not make it so, or even likely.

Please feel free to Mefi-mail me if you'd like to talk further.
posted by OmieWise at 11:39 AM on January 28, 2013 [27 favorites]

You have nothing to be ashamed of. You didn't do anything wrong. You are a valuable, worthwhile person. You deserve to know the truth about your health.

Get tested.

If you post your location or nearest big city, I bet we can help you find a very supportive clinic that can help you through the testing process and whatever your results might be.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:39 AM on January 28, 2013 [14 favorites]

You can now buy an over the counter HIV test at places like CVS, but I think the results need to be confirmed by a physician.
posted by unreasonable at 11:46 AM on January 28, 2013

I am not sure how the current healthcare rules re: preexisting conditions will affect this information, but my advice to you is this:

- anonymize this question
- do not get tested at your regular doctor using your health insurance; go to the Board of Health or GMHC/similar organization in your city instead

But yes, definitely get tested.

You can also call Project Inform's HIV hotline (1-800-822-7422) and talk to someone right now who can give you resources and advice. They are an awesome organization staffed by absolutely wonderful, knowledgeable people.
posted by elizardbits at 11:48 AM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm so, so sorry you are dealing with this.

Like Snarl says, you are a valuable person, you have nothing to be ashamed of and you deserve to know the truth about your status.

You could call RAINN to see what local resources are available for support and to talk through your situation and see if they have any insight.

But yeah. Getting tested is going to give you the clarity you need to move forward. And there's a decent chance that getting tested will reveal that you do not have HIV.
posted by bunderful at 11:48 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry you're feeling this way. You did nothing wrong, and you are trying to do the right thing now, even if you maybe need to circle around it a little first. (And hey, who doesn't need to do that sometimes?)

Sounds like you could use some support from someone who's purely on your side and who you don't have to worry about upsetting. Not your parents, not your current guy. Is there a friend you could trust to help come with you for the testing and/or results? If not, perhaps there's a hotline - an HIV information and support group might be great, but a more general crisis line could help too.

If you can bring yourself to, push away the worries about the parents and the guy and try to get through what you need to right now. You need to get tested, and if possible you need some support to do so. Don't borrow worries from six or seven steps down the worst-case-scenario path. If the results are positive, then you can start thinking through how to deal with that. Find out what you're dealing with first, and if it comes to that, you'll already be in touch with a clinic or doctor who has helped people through this before, and will have resources to help you with that step.

Deep breaths. You're a good person and you will still be a good person whatever your health status, now or anytime in the future.
posted by Stacey at 11:49 AM on January 28, 2013

First, go get tested. Then, if the test is positive, come back and post another question on how to deal with it, especially w/r/t your boyfriend and parents. If you test positive you don't have to tell anyone before you get more advice from people here or a trusted friend/therapist.
posted by young sister beacon at 11:52 AM on January 28, 2013

Just to say what you need to hear: even if you get the test and it is HIV, then you know that everyone who loves you who you should continue loving back will still love you.

Second: My health fell the fuck apart in 2010 and I thought I was maybe just going to die a death of a thousand tiny and not so tiny immune system failures.

Turns out it was allergies and some ulcers that I had just been allowing to fester because the symptoms I'd had for years did not register as symptoms because I did not identify as having anything wrong with me. When things went south they went south in a progressively bigger more horrible way until I think I also thought maybe I had lupus or HIV or just had been cursed by the angry DC street dudes that I pass by sometimes who dislike women.

To summarize: You will be ok. It might not be HIV. You will be ok regardless.
posted by skrozidile at 11:52 AM on January 28, 2013

Also sometimes there are places (Planned Parenthood should be able to help if you have one near you) where you can get really quick turn around HIV tests so that it is not agony of waiting on top of everything else.
posted by skrozidile at 11:53 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you have a friend who lives in your area who would be willing to take a morning or afternoon off of work and go in with you to the lab to get your blood drawn? I know it's easy for all of us to say "go get tested!" (and you should, because it sounds like your anxiety and fear of being HIV+ is getting to the point where knowing either way will be better) but I totally understand how it is to get paralyzed with the fear and upset and not be able to make that appointment.

If I were your friend, and you said "I have this weird health issue and my doctor said I need a blood test but I can't make myself go in alone because it's too upsetting, will you please come with me and hold my hand?" I would be there in a second. Sometimes having someone else go with you for scary medical tests is the difference between being able to cope with your anxiety and get it done, and staying stuck in avoidance.

This is exactly what friends are for, to help you through the rough spots. Please don't be afraid to draw on your social network; people are surprisingly good about being supportive even if you don't tell them the exact details of your medical history.
posted by iminurmefi at 11:54 AM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

You can find a clinic near you (assuming you're in the U.S.) by plugging your ZIP code in here.*

You are worthy of being cared for, and that includes taking care of your health by getting tested. The page I linked to has stories from other young people about getting tested. Please take care of yourself, and be kind to yourself. You are not the only person who has felt this way, regardless of how your test comes back. You are not alone; you are not a bad person; you do not need to be alone and ashamed like this.

* This page is a partnership page with one of the program areas at my work, but I don't work with that program area except to say hi in the kitchen.
posted by rtha at 11:56 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I may be wrong, but I don't think HIV progresses that quickly unless you already have a weakened immune system.

Also, routine STD testing (including HIV) is part of being a sexually active adult. If you don't have health insurance, there are free clinics and they are very protective of your anonymity.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 11:58 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Get tested. Statistically, it is unlikely that what you have is an HIV related series of illnesses. However, you'll feel better once you have test results, and if you are HIV positive, it's best to know ASAP so you can make good treatment decisions.

Some of my closest friends have known they were HIV positive for 20+ years now, and they're in way better health than I am.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:02 PM on January 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

Oh, I am so sorry for the fear you're feeling right now. That can feel paralyzing. Yes, everyone's right - you do get tested. But it seems that you have a lot of fear around what might happen to you - what you might lose (in terms of relationships, with your parents, with your boyfriend). I just wanted to echo Stacey's and iminurmefi's comments above and say something about that. And that's that you can do it. You can google a clinic, make an appointment, ask about counseling services, get tested, deal with anxiety of the waiting, and the relief of knowing and whatever you may feel about those results. It's going to be hard, but you can do this. Other people have, and you can too. If there is anyone you feel you could call to hold your hand and go with you, this is the time to call them in. If you don't feel you have anyone, then take your teddy bear if you have to have something to hug, and go.

Know that being sick with flu messes with your head and your resiliency. Of course you want to know why you're sick. Being sick sucks. And if it is pervasive, rather than thinking that you're just run down, or stressed, or just exposed to someone else who keeps getting you sick, or you forgot to take your vitamins, or whatever the benign reasons could be that you are sick, your mind can go to your variation of a worst case scenario. But you are officially jumping to conclusions. There are a heap load of reasons why you could be repeatedly sick. (And this from a person who thought she had onset type two diabetes because my hands were numb first thing the in the morning, and it ended up being because I had randomly stopped taking vitamin B 12 because I ran out and forgot to buy some more). If I'd known more about diabetes, I would have noticed that I didn't have all of the symptoms. If I'd known anything about vitamin deficiencies, I probably could have looked that up. But I just had one or two symptoms that could have been diabetes, lots of fear, and lots of time on the internet, and bam! Suddenly I'm diagnosing health issues like a manic self trained health professional - usually my worst case scenario. If you happen to be doing this to yourself, that's also entirely understandable, but you are putting yourself through the ringer. Don't do that to yourself.

If you can, capture all of your fears in a journal for now, about your parents, and your boyfriend, and your life, and promise yourself you will get back to them after you know what's going on for you. But everyone is right - the first things first suggests you find a confidential clinic. And until then, take really good care of yourself, try to bring your wandering mind back to live in this moment, 100 times a day if you have to. Do not live in worst case scenario land. Skip making big decisions, put off projects if you can - if you're in school, ask for an extension. Tell yourself that in two weeks you will know, one way or the other. And just let all those fears wash over you until then, when you'll deal with them. Whatever you need to take care of yourself.

And then, when you know, whatever happens, know that you can handle that too. Many, many people have, and you are just as strong as they are.

Sending all sorts of good thoughts your way.
posted by anitanita at 12:13 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

...from what was ultimately a nebulous, semi-sexual assault experience last March.
Do get tested, but also: it sounds like you haven't really dealt with that assault yet, might even be blaming yourself. It is not unthinkable that that at least partly explains the string of health issues you're dealing with. On the other hand there might be a completely different underlying cause. Anyway, I'm not saying there's no chance you have HIV but as others have said, it is in no way a given based on what you described.
posted by Ms. Next at 12:17 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mod note: This is a response from an anonymous commenter.
I was sexually assaulted five years ago and was so ashamed that I had "put myself in the position to be raped" (it sounds like you might be beating yourself with that stick too and I recommend you seek counselling for this, you deserve it) that I didn't get tested for HIV afterwards.

I lived with that, terrified, for four years. Then I started getting ill and run down like you. So I got tested, finally.

So the result, there were two, actually. One was that my illness and fatigue was due to a severe vitamin D deficiency which subsequently got treated and now I feel so much better. The other was, I am not HIV-positive, and my GOD - the relief. Not just from the worry about the illness, but the shame, the grinding shame, of never having got tested for something which, for so long, I felt I deserved to have because of the guilt I still carried.

I urge you to seek counselling and get tested, it will bring you so much more relief than you can imagine. Best of love and luck to you.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:28 PM on January 28, 2013 [26 favorites]

I don't know if you are in my area but if you are I will go with you. No judgements, just a friendly face.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:30 PM on January 28, 2013 [12 favorites]

I see you've taken the advice of some commenters above and anonymized the question, but just in case that's one more thing adding to your anxiety about this situation, let me say: while I'm sure those suggestions came from a place of caring, posting what you did here has between a minuscule and absolute-zero percent chance of having negative repercussions for you in terms of health insurance going forward. So please don't let that be something that causes you additional stress or keeps from you from getting tested.

To that end, also don't let the suggestions that this be made anonymous make you feel like this is something that you couldn't or shouldn't talk openly about with friends (including internet and mefi friends). It's obvious that you have a lot of shame around the fear of possibly being HIV+, and I want to let you know that what you are going through is not uncommon and not shameful and not something you should feel bad about. I am sure there are many people on this site who either know EXACTLY how you're feeling right now because they've gone through it, or because they've held the hand of a friend who has gone through it.
posted by iminurmefi at 12:35 PM on January 28, 2013 [8 favorites]

I can't bear to be poked and prodded anymore.

FYI the HIV test does not need to involve any needles or "prodding" and doesn't need to be at a doctor's office. Go to Planned Parenthood or a similar clinic. They have you swab the inside of your mouth. If it's negative, then yay! You're done with that fear* and you can explore other, probably less scary causes of your symptoms. If it's positive, you'll need another test, probably a blood test, to confirm.

* If you're sexually active you should get tested every six months or so anyway, but you'll at least know you didn't get anything from your encounter last march, because it would have shown up by now.
posted by desjardins at 12:51 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yes, to clarify: my suggestion to anonymize this question and not use your health insurance for testing was solely because of the big brother-esque aspect of healthcare in america. They keep every single bit of information on you, seemingly forever, and it creeps me the fuck out. Also, the rules for what they can and cannot disclose to outside parties vary wildly from state to state. No matter what the outcome of your test, and ftr I believe you will be fine, there may be a point in the future where this information could be mishandled and misinterpreted.
posted by elizardbits at 12:51 PM on January 28, 2013

You should get tested.

Because you will feel better knowing and dealing with real stuff rather than fear of stuff that may or may not be.

Because you're falling for someone, and this is how you would want to be treated if there was a possibility he was in a position to infect you.

Because no matter what it is - HIV or vitamin deficiency or psychosomatic from PTSD - you can't treat it till you know what it is.

Because most places where you can get tested will be in a position to help counsel you. About the diagnosis and maybe for your trauma from this assault. Or they'll be able to direct you somewhere.

Because your parents and your new partner care about you, no matter what reactions you think they might have (and they may surprise you) about anything else in your life, and they want you to get help.
posted by phearlez at 12:56 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Go get tested. You almost certainly don't have HIV, but you'll need the test for the peace of mind.
posted by eas98 at 1:03 PM on January 28, 2013

I would get tested. I don't know about where you are, but in Toronto we have a hassle-free clinic that will test people and ask no questions.

If you are negative, you will be relieved. If you are positive, you will know that you need to take precautions. You don't need to stop intimacy - you can practice safe sex.

The assault is another matter, and you should seek counseling about that.

Your partner needs to know your HIV status, if you are intimate; if you're an adult, your parents do not need to know anything about either the assault or your health if you don't want them to know.
posted by jb at 1:13 PM on January 28, 2013

I have been getting sick a lot for years - colds, infections, low energy... until I have made major changes to my lifestyle: stopped taking birth control pills - yes, they mess with your immune system; stopped drinking milk (my nose is so much clearer now - I don't know why), stopped eating wheat (my energy increased so much!). I am not saying you should do the same, but I was also thinking I will die from a mysterious disease.

That said, get tested for the peace of mind.
posted by Think [Instrumental] at 1:20 PM on January 28, 2013

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
I will be going to get tested. What I am really concerned about are next steps. I am 80-90% sure that the guy who assaulted me has been exposed to HIV and I am now 100% sure he has never used condoms during sex. I could also have been exposed when my boyfriend/fiance prior to the aforementioned guy started sleeping with someone else during the last few months of our relationship. This is why I feel like I have genuine cause for concern. Thanks for all the answers so far.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:26 PM on January 28, 2013

Even if the people with whom you've had sexual contact are, in fact, HIV positive, it does not necessarily follow that you are too. I have two close friends, two women I've known for more than 35 years, who were both repeatedly and very definitely exposed to HIV (one via needles and sex, the other just through sex) and neither of them is HIV positive.

Go get the test. If by some chance you are positive then start worrying about what comes next.
posted by mareli at 1:36 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

As people often say in Ask: You sound really young. You are seriously catastrophizing this, and you don't even know if there's anything real to worry about. Why are you 80-90% sure the guy had HIV? Has he given it to other people? Does he have obvious symptoms (can't think of what an clear-cut symptom would be, but anyway)? Does he engage in known high-risk behaviors for HIV? Who has given you the intel that he 100% for-sure never uses condoms?

Don't get me wrong -- even if all of that falls apart, it's still possible he has HIV. And you still should get tested. But you need to try to take a more objective look at your reasoning.

I went through a similar situation in college, except that I got tested as soon as it was possible to do so. And then I got tested again a few more times. All negative. It was the right thing to do to get tested, but a big big reason that I was so afraid the guy had given me HIV -- was the whole shame of having "gotten myself in trouble". And the guy was obviously awful, so my thinking went, "If he's so bad that he would do this bad thing, he's probably contaminating and disease-filled in every possible way, and this one incident is going to ruin my life". Cartoonishly demonizing every aspect of the guy, was part of my coping mechanism, in a way. But you're also punishing yourself here -- "because this bad thing happened to me, I am probably ruined forever".

I have no good advice for how to pull yourself out of a dread spiral, because I get stuck in them, myself. Except get tested immediately -- today or tomorrow if even remotely possible. The sooner it's over with, the better. But you should be aware that your current level of worry way exceeds what the appropriate level of worry should be, in your situation.
posted by Coatlicue at 1:46 PM on January 28, 2013

I am glad you are getting tested. If you are in NY, I will go with you and hold your hand if you want.

The next steps won't be so bad.
You will get tested, you will wait a few agonizing days to hear the results.

When you hear the results, if you are positive, there is about zero chance that they are going to say "You're positive. Bye. Click."
It is their job to know how to deal with these things and advise you. If the people at the lab can't talk to you or you don't feel like talking to them, your gyno or a doctor you trust can talk to you.

They know what to do and they will help you.
They'll probably refer you to a counselor, and to a specialist who will know the medical side even better than they do.
They will help you figure out what you need to do, who you need to tell (and who you don't have to tell), and what medications and habits you will need to acquire.

The key is that even if you are positive and you don't want to tell anyone, you won't be alone because there are trained medical professionals to help you.

I hope this has eased your mind. If not, call your gyno and say you are worried about next steps and hear it from someone who knows way more than I do.
posted by rmless at 2:10 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not knowing may be all that is wrong with you. Worry might be sapping your strength. If you get a negative outcome, your other symptoms may disappear.
When you do get an HIV test, and find out that you have worried needlessly for nearly a year, then have your doctor find out what is causing your less than 100% feelings.
posted by Cranberry at 2:20 PM on January 28, 2013

Asker, I had unprotected sex with at least one person whom I know 100% to have been HIV positive (because he died of AIDS). I am HIV negative. I bet you are, too, but if it does turn out that you are positive, you are still likely to be fine and never develop AIDS and live a long, healthy life.

There's a difference between risk assessment and catastrophizing and with all respect, what you're doing is catastrophizing.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:39 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Your next steps are also your first steps. Seek out testing, but do so while also seeking some counseling. You're feeling a lot of stress and pressure here, and clearly concerned about your support system.

There's plenty of good guidance above. Use some of it to find you a more holistic solution than the clinical phlebotomist your gyn is sending you to for a test.
posted by phearlez at 2:40 PM on January 28, 2013

Get Tested.

If you do have HIV, thank your lucky stars that there are tons of therapies and drugs now that will help you live a long, healthy life.

I lost too many friends to AIDS in the eighties. But I know people who have been living with HIV/AIDS for 30 years now. The drugs are a blessing.

No matter what, knowing is better than freaking out.

I had a friend in 1987, he started getting headaches, and refused to go to the doctor, he was petrified that he had contracted HIV. He died of a bacterial infection.

Not knowing isn't better than having HIV.

PLEASE get tested.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:24 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

You asked about the next steps. You are likely to be HIV negative, in which case I would consider seeking therapy for the sexual assault (or semi-sexual assault as you called it).

If you test HIV positive, the testing clinic will have resources for you and suggestions for your next steps - they are not going to just give you the result and send you on your way.

You must be terrified right now, but try to remember that you probably are HIV negative, and if you are HIV positive, there is much, much better treatment now than there was 10+ years ago. There isn't a cure, but people live (long & healthy lives) with HIV now.
posted by insectosaurus at 3:55 PM on January 28, 2013

I honestly doubt that you do have HIV. Getting tested is THE next step that will likely result in you finding that you are HIV-negative. But based on your follow up it seems like you are maybe stuck in fear and having next steps would help you - maybe? So ....

Next steps (if positive)

1. Go to the clinic and get tested.
2. If positive, ask what counseling they can offer you - on the spot and ongoing.
3. If you live alone, consider asking a trusted friend to come over that night. You don't have to tell them what is going on, you can say you have some bad news and aren't ready to talk and need support. You can watch movies and eat ice cream or whatever you find comforting.
4. If you live with your parents or partner, consider whether you prefer to spend the evening at home or out. You could get a hotel if you prefer to be alone, or stay over with a friend. You do not have to tell anyone that you are HIV-positive yet. You should not sleep with your boyfriend or anyone else, though, until you are ready to disclose.
5. Find a therapist who specializes in coping with HIV.
6. Ask the clinic where you were tested about appropriate next steps.
7. Talk to your therapist about telling your partner and whether to tell your parents. They will be able to help you come up with an appropriate plan.

Remember that many, many people have dealt with this and have not only survived, but have thrived. And remember that we're all rooting for you. Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 4:46 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

And if you need a human being to talk to, memail me.
posted by bunderful at 4:49 PM on January 28, 2013

From a MeFite who would prefer to remain anon:
OP, I'm so glad to read your update saying that you're going to get tested. I'm a woman who broke up last year with my boyfriend of almost a year. We agreed to be exclusive and didn't use condoms. I found out after the fact that not only was he was sleeping with another woman during our relationship, he was having a lot of anonymous sex with men from Craigslist. When I say a lot, I mean there were hundreds of emails showing that he connected anonymous men for sex. He hated condoms so I doubt he used any protection. I was terrified to get tested for HIV and was so relieved when I tested negative. Please take care of yourself. Stay strong. My heart is with you.
posted by jessamyn at 5:27 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Nthing that you are VERY unlikely to be HIV positive from one sexual exposure. Also nthing that your symptoms could be from countless other causes and don't even match the symptoms of HIV infection, which if anything would be flu like symptoms shortly after infection and compromised immune system years after infection.

Get tested and get some peace of mind. 99% chance your HIV anxiety is from guilt over the sexual encounter and not from any meaningful evidence of disease or likelihood of infection. You'll be ok.
posted by banishedimmortal at 9:08 PM on January 28, 2013

I'm surprised no one seems to have said this yet: the odds of you having contracted HIV, even from a partner who was definitely HIV positive, are very small. Like one in five hundred (0.2%) remote. Here are some statistics:


Even the absolute worst-case scenario--where you had unprotected anal sex with an HIV-positive partner--would put you at about a one-in-thirty chance (about 3%) of infection, and that's on the very low end of a very wide range:


To reiterate: it is very, very unlikely, statistically speaking, for you to have gotten HIV from one (or two, or ten) sexual encounters with an HIV-positive person. And you're not even totally sure this person is HIV-positive.

It sounds like you have a lot to deal with emotionally from the aftermath of this experience, and you don't need to be struggling with the fear of HIV infection on top of everything else. Please allow yourself to believe that you do not have HIV. You almost certainly do not have it. Though of course you should get tested for your own peace of mind.
posted by The Minotaur at 9:24 PM on January 28, 2013

I once thought I had heart problems because I had a severe pain in my chest sometimes and would get dizzy. It was just a stress ulcer. The nervousness from thinking it was a potential heart attack made my heart beat faster, causing more blood loss from the ulcer, and that's what caused the dizzyness.

Another time a surgeon thought I might have hepatitis because my blood doesn't coagulate well outside of my body (although it coagulates just fine inside it) but it turned out to be just a minor genetic mutation which might even be beneficial.

My point is that the human mind is trained to spot patterns and so a lot of innocuous things can seem incredibly scary until you get tested. Either way, delaying this test is not going to be helpful in any way.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:00 PM on January 28, 2013

I'm a little torn about posting this comment because I'm not a doctor, I'm not involved in public health, I don't know a ton about HIV and so on, which is why I've waited to post it. But what you're describing doesn't sound a lot like HIV, given the timeline. 40-90% of people experience symptoms of primary HIV infection, which is frequently mistaken for the flu (as I understand it, doctors generally won't connect these symptoms to HIV unless the patient mentions an obvious risk of exposure). These symptoms last a couple of weeks. After seroconversion, you hit clinical latency/secondary infection, during which time people don't really experience symptoms. The reason you get told to wait on an HIV test is that (historically) the tests needed seroconversion to have happened and wouldn't give a positive result during primary infection. (The 'window period' in the UK is given as up to one month. In the US, it's given as three to six months. I think this has to do with differing types of testing being available. The newer tests seem to be more readily available in Britain.) As far as I can tell, you wouldn't be experiencing random small illnesses due to HIV nine to ten months after exposure.

All that said, the reasons everyone else has given you for getting tested still apply. You'll have peace of mind if you do. Someone has already mentioned it, but there are HIV tests that use 'oral fluid', rather than blood, so no poking involved. Besides, the more people who go and get tested in those 'you should get tested' situations, the better because it helps normalise testing. Not only are you helping yourself, you're helping everyone. (Is that persuasive? I don't know. It could be for some people.)
posted by hoyland at 8:20 AM on January 29, 2013

You've already agreed to get tested, so I am going to skip that part. Please rest assured that the fear you are feeling right now is very common and normal. It's a scary question to have!

I still don't know what to do about the fact that I was exposed during sex that I consented to initially but didn't want to continue with but did anyway because I was afraid that the guy I was with would hurt me.

You didn't do anything wrong. You don't have to fix it.

You made a choice between an immediate threat and theoretical future consequence, and you chose to protect yourself from the immediate threat.

That was not a bad decision. It was not an irresponsible decision. It does not make you a bad person.

You made the choice you did with the information you had at the time, and it's not a bad or unusual choice to have made. Lots of us have been in that position and made similar choices. And it hurts and it feels bad, but it doesn't make us bad people.

You don't deserve to be punished or shamed for being sexually active, for having had sex that you wish hadn't happened, nor for choosing current safety over longterm risk reduction. Most likely, all that will happen is what's happening right now: it will hurt emotionally. It doesn't automatically come with a physical consequence.

If you test positive, you will be okay*. If you test negative, you will be okay. You will be okay! Breathe. Be gentle and forgiving with yourself. You didn't fuck things up.

*Really! I know lots of HIV-positive people. I know HIV-positive straight women who date HIV-negative dudes. I'm not saying it's a picnic, but you would be surprised how okay you could be. But don't even worry about that until you know for sure that's what you're dealing with. One day at a time!
posted by heatherann at 11:15 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it helps, I assumed that I was HIV positive for many years, because I partook of the SF bath culture, on drugs, in the early Eighties, without protection. When I finally did get tested, I was negative.

My partner is positive. After three years, I got another test and, again, it was negative.

HIV is not that easy to transmit. So get tested and put the anxiety to rest. And if you are positive, there are counsellors and drugs to help you manage it.

Really, knowing is always better than not knowing.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 7:40 PM on January 29, 2013

My heart is breaking from fear. What can I do right now?

If I were in your shoes and I was in the process of getting tested, I know I would be worrying myself sick and I would want to distract myself. I would take take myself to the movies every night after work, including a double feature if that helped, and buy whatever junk food I wanted. You could also watch silly comedy movies and shows on Hulu and Netflix, whatever makes you laugh, and preferably something with a lot of episodes available so you can just watch one after the other.

If you need someone to go with you to get tested or to get your results, and I'm in your area (my location is in my profile), I'll go with you.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 8:23 PM on January 29, 2013

Hey OP, any update on this? Still thinking of you and hoping you're doing alright.
posted by The Minotaur at 5:42 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

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