Who do I tell about my HIV status?

Picture '2x2' by S8 from Flicker.comThis one question causes us so many headaches and the answer depends on many different factors, including the mood of the day, person, context, state of our health. I believe, however, that there are only a few guiding principles in deciding who to tell about our hiv status.

Who you must absolutely tell

As the Parenzee trial and the California Supreme court reminded us, whether we believe in hiv and aids or not, we have no option with regards to people with whom we may share a mode of transmission: we must tell them. There may even be a law that makes it compulsory to disclose your hiv status.

It may not be easy and how you do it is up to you. If you don't know how to bring up the subject, drop me a line and I will do my best to help you: (replace AT with @!).

Thankfully there are only two wamodes of transmission: blood and sperm. That should narrow down the number of people you must absolutely tell to only one or a handful. Until you have told those people, you must absolutely protect them (avoid sex or wear condoms for sex, do not share needles etc.)

See the list of resources at the end of this post if you are unsure how hiv/aids is transmitted.

Should I tell friends or family?

Be selfish. Only tell friends and family member who you want support from. You will be positively surprised at how people react to the news. For all the others, wait until you have adjusted to the news yourself. Take your time. Very often you will find that you need to educate people and that there still is that perception that hiv is a death sentence. It is not and many treatment options exist if you ever need to go that way.

Be philosphical about it: some friends will drift apart - but they would drift apart anyway. Families, no matter what, tend to stick together, however hard they take the news at first. You may be taking a gamble but every day is a gamble anyway, don't let other people's ignorance stop you!

Do my employer and colleagues need to know?

Unless your work involves swapping sperm, blood or other bodily fluids then you probably don't have to rush into telling. In fact, I would advise against it in general. Think carefully about that and wait another week before you tell if that's what you decide to do.
Shortly after I was diagnosed, I had to undergo a routine medical check before I could finalise a full-time employment contract. I was terrified. The GP (doctor) was not sure whether this was a big deal or not so I explained to him that the job I was hired for, an office-based computer job, did not expose any co-worker to a transmission risk. After checking my hospital records, he saw me fit to do the job and let the HR department know this much only. The rest was only my andhis business.

How about my bank, insurer and other service providers?

Now the tricky questions, eh? Well, first of all don't tell them. Even if anti-discrimination laws exist to protect you, think twice. Study the products or service you are buying. If they contain a clause in relation to pre-existing medical conditions or hiv/aids in particular, then you must think twice as hard. Are you likely to be found out if you lie? What is it going to end up costing you? Does that outweigh the benefits of the service until the time you are found out?

Hmmm, ok, this is cheating but apparently a number of people prefer to lie when they get mortgage protection insurance or even health insurance. Their thinking is that they are unlikely to develop aids for the duration of the contract. It is a gamble and unfortunately for most the only way of being able to be able to buy a house, for instance. Regarding health insurance, that could mean your usual medical expenses can still be covered.

I don't recommend that you lie about your hiv status and only your own circumstances will help you make that call.

Tell someone.

Whatever you decide, you should tell someone, at least one person. Perhaps a close friend or someone who is not so close. If things go wrong, it's easier to lose an acquaintance than a friend. Tell them somewhere 'neutral,' somewhere that does not matter to you, so that you don't associate a bad memory with a place you frequent usually.

Why should you tell at least one person? In my opinion, you will be surprised how much easier it is than you expect. Then, you will be amazed at how supportive people are. Finally, you will feel a sense of relief to know that there is someone you can talk to in the future. Be selfish. Don't think too much about how you will 'bother' them. You need them now and one day they might need you too.

Whatever you do, be proud of who you are. Forgive others for their ignorance and be grateful to have support around you. One day, others will need you the way you need them now.


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