(dailyRx News) Love is a journey, and there are many bumps along the way. If you or your partner has been exposed to HIV, it's something that you have to deal with together.
In a new set of guidelines, the World Health Organization (WHO) is encouraging couples to get tested together for HIV.
In the case that one of the partners tests positive, the WHO says that partner should immediately start on a course of anti-HIV drugs.
A surprising number of people are in relationships where one partner is HIV-positive and the other is HIV-negative. These are called “serodiscordant” couples.
In sub-Saharan Africa, where the epidemic is strongest, up to half of HIV-positive individuals who are in stable relationships have HIV-negative partners, according to the WHO. Serodiscordant relationships aren't limited to this part of the world either – many people may not realize that their partner has been exposed to HIV.
It may be obvious to say that a person who is in a relationship with an HIV-positive individual is at high risk for infection. But it's possible for that person to remain HIV-negative, as long as his or her partner keeps their infection under control and they practice safe sex.
The WHO wants to change the fact there's often a gap between communication and care for the partners of people who are HIV-positive. Most new infections occur within these relationships.
The WHO guideline paper states: “The majority of people living in stable relationships are unaware of their partner's status, and many people with an HIV-positive partner are not aware of their own status.”
In other words, even within intimate relationships, there's a lack of information about HIV status. Those who test positive may not want to share the information with their partner for a number of reasons. Or their partners may be afraid to find out.
By encouraging partners to go in and get tested together, the WHO hopes to encourage discussion about HIV status and how to manage it together.
The guidelines also encourage early treatment for HIV for people in serodiscordant relationships. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) reduces the risk of sexual transmission, by up to 96 percent.
According to the WHO's recommendations, ART should be started for a positive-testing partner even if it's not yet necessary for their own health. The focus is on preventing transmission.
Here are the complete recommendations:
1. Couples and partners should be offered voluntary HIV testing and counselling with support for mutual disclosure.
2. Couples and partners in antenatal care settings should be offered voluntary HIV testing and counselling with support for mutual disclosure.
3. Couples and partner voluntary HIV testing and counselling with support for mutual disclosure should be offered to individuals with known HIV status and their partners.
4. People with HIV in serodiscordant couples and who are started on antiretroviral therapy (ART) for their own health should be advised that ART is also recommended to reduce HIV transmission to the uninfected partner.
5. HIV-positive partners with >350 CD4 cells/μL in serodiscordant couples should be offered ART to reduce HIV transmission to uninfected partners.
The guidelines were published in April 2012.