Support for Family and Friends
This page is for partners, family members and close friends of people living with HIV. It answers some questions that are frequently asked by loved ones.
Sometimes the needs of family and friends can seem less important than the needs of the person living with HIV. It can also be difficult to ask about their HIV, or their health because this can be upsetting.
Another big issue is privacy and confidentiality. In many situations, people with HIV ask for others to keep their HIV diagnosis secret.
Below are some FAQs that friends and family of PLHIV might have
How long can someone live after getting HIV?
If people start treatments early and take them as directed, they are likely to live as long as people who don’t have HIV. HIV medicines are excellent, and people with HIV are living longer and healthier than ever before. Maintaining life-long treatment is very important, and this is not easy for everybody. Access to support and quality care makes a big difference.
My child (or their partner) is HIV-positive. Will I ever have grandchildren?
It is possible for HIV positive people to become parents (or donors), and to have children who do not have HIV.
If a couple includes someone who does not have HIV, there are many ways for them to get pregnant without passing on HIV. The person with HIV takes treatment and once they have undetectable viral load (also called viral suppression) they cannot pass on HIV to their sexual partner.
HIV-negative people can also take HIV treatments reduce their risk of getting HIV, these treatments are called ‘PrEP’ (which is short for pre-exposure prophylaxis). It is safe for people to take PrEP during pregnancy.
Although HIV can be passed on to baby through pregnancy and breast/ chest feeding, HIV treatments are safe during pregnancy and feeding and very effective at preventing transmission to the child. HIV treatments in pregnancy aim to lower the HIV viral load to undetectable to prevent HIV transmission to the baby. The lower the mother’s viral load during pregnancy, birth and feeding, the lower the risk for the baby.
I am living with someone who has HIV. How easily can I get HIV?
You can’t get HIV by simply living with someone.
Once you understand HIV transmission you will be able to measure risk properly. When people don’t understand how HIV is passed from person to person there can be fear and unnecessary panic. This can also lead to isolation and unfair treatment of the person living with HIV.
HIV can be transmitted when a body fluid containing enough HIV leaves the body of one person and enters the body of another person.
The only body fluids that may contain enough HIV are:
- Semen (and pre-ejaculate)
- Vaginal fluids
- Breast milk/chest milk.
Body fluids such as saliva, sweat and nasal mucus do not contain enough HIV to pass on the virus.
The activities that have risk of passing on HIV are:
- Anal/vaginal sex
- Pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding/chestfeeding
- Sharing needles for drug use, tattooing or piercing
HIV treatments work to reduce the amount of virus in these body fluids and stop transmission.
HIV cannot be transmitted by:
- Social contact like shaking hands
- Touching, hugging, or kissing
- Being coughed, sneezed, or cried on
- Sharing food, dishes, cutlery or drinking glasses
- The air or by breathing around a person with HIV
- Toilet seats, drinking fountains, swimming pools or communal gyms
- Animal or insect bites
More information about HIV transmission and prevention and be found here.
Is it ever completely safe to have sex with a person with HIV?
If the person with HIV has an undetectable viral load (viral suppression), they cannot pass on HIV to their sexual partner(s).
If you are HIV negative and you don’t know the HIV status of your partner(s), you can also take the prevention pill PrEP. For more information PrEP – Living Positive Victoria
More information on treatment as prevention can be found here.
Does a person with HIV have to tell their sexual partner that they have HIV?
In Victoria, people with HIV are not required to share their HIV status with their sexual partner(s) if they are taking reasonable precautions. This includes using condoms or being on effective HIV treatment. The laws about HIV disclosure differ in each state.
How do I help someone with HIV when I feel overwhelmed by it?
If you are feeling overwhelmed, the best thing to do is to get support for yourself first. You may also like to see a counsellor who specialises in HIV. Our Peer Navigators can also provide you with support and advice.
How can I be supportive?
Support comes in many forms.
CONFIDENTIALITY: Let them know that you respect their privacy and that whatever they tell you will not be shared with others.
LISTEN: Take time to first listen to what they want to talk about. Let them do most of the talking.
ASK: Ask open-ended questions.
“What can I do for you?”
“How can I help?”
“Is there something you want me to do for you right now?”
DON’T ASK: It is never helpful to ask, “How did you get HIV?’’ You don’t need to know this in order to support the person. This question can feel invasive and judgmental, and it doesn’t help the conversation. The person will tell you if and when they want you to know.
AFFIRM: Use language that shows you understand what they’ve told you, and that you respect how they’re feeling. Let them know that their HIV status does not affect your relationship with them.
REASSURE: Let them know that you are available for them in the future (if this is the case). You could suggest that they connect with HIV support services such as counselling or peer support. You could tell them about LPV Peer Navigators or about the Phoenix workshops for recently diagnosed people.
You could also:
- offer your time to accompany them to an appointment
- spend further one-one time with them
- if appropriate, stress that you love them unconditionally.
TOUCH: Touch and physical contact can be very helpful. It depends on what is normal and comfortable for both of you. Offering a hug or putting your arm around the person can be comforting, and can tell a person that you accept their HIV status.
STAY CONNECTED: It’s important to show that things haven’t changed after they shared with HIV status. They may want to connect with you in the same ways they did before they were diagnosed, so it is best to continue your relationship as you did before their diagnosis. Talk about things you’ve always discussed with each other and show them that you see them as the same person and that they’re more than their HIV diagnosis.
I’ve been asked to promise to keep family member’s HIV diagnosis a secret from the rest of my family. What should I do?
People with HIV often want, and sometimes need, their HIV to be kept secret from family.
It might be helpful to know if they have told anyone other people outside the family.
It is very important respect their privacy and decision around disclosure. HIV is a very private matter. People with HIV often wait for the right time and place to tell other people, and this can take a long time.
If you don’t have anyone to talk to, it would be a good idea for you to see a counsellor, as being the only one with this knowledge has its challenges.