Living with an HIV-positive family member can give you ample opportunity to support your loved one.
Despite popular misconceptions, HIV isn’t transmissible through shared bites of food or drinking from the same cup, sneezing nearby, or hugging.
The virus is transmissible through blood and genital secretions, says Jon McGarry, MD, medical director of MISTR. This gay-owned-and-operated telehealth platform offers preventive medication along with long-term HIV treatment.
“It cannot be spread through casual contact with a friend, family member, or other roommate who is positive,” he says.
“This means their risk of transmitting the infection to a negative person is very, very low — even if the negative person comes into contact with that positive person’s bodily fluids,” explains Jae Majors, LMSW, a clinical supervisor and therapist at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York City.
As it goes, people living with HIV have a
But because misinformation around HIV abounds, an HIV diagnosis can rock someone’s world. If someone you love recently tested positive for HIV, holding space for them is important.
Although HIV is often manageable, it’s a lifelong condition. Navigating this adjustment can be physically and emotionally challenging.
If you have questions about HIV, avoid asking the HIV-positive person in your life. Instead, do your research. Kudos, this article is a great place to start.
When a person first finds out they have HIV, they need to focus on their own emotional and physical well-being, says Majors. “Having to worry about educating other people about HIV can be very draining and taxing to a person who’s positive,” he says.
Braunstein recommends checking out the following websites:
You can also consult with a healthcare professional to learn more.
“Most cities will have a community health center where you can get information, as well as pick up literature about HIV,” says McGarry.
“One of the most common misconceptions people have is that it isn’t safe to live with someone who is HIV-positive,” says McGarry. The reality is that it’s safe to live with HIV-positive family members, roommates, or friends.
It’s a virus that anyone can contract if they experience exposure to blood, semen, or vaginal fluids containing the virus, says Braunstein.
If the person living with HIV in your household is queer, and some part of you believes they ”asked for it” because of their identity or sexual activity, you have work to do.
You need to unlearn internalized homophobia and unpack puritanical beliefs around sex, says Kollyn Conrad, founder and executive director of Publicly Private, a nonprofit supporting LGBTQIA+ communities.
“If you don’t do the work to unlearn discriminatory beliefs and instead choose to lay in fear and hate, you’re going to hold yourself back from truly understanding HIV or actually supporting your family member or roommate with it,” he says.
A great thing an HIV-positive person can do to simultaneously prioritize their own health and reduce the chance of transmitting the virus is to take suppression medication, says Braunstein.
Beyond that, there are a few precautions your mixed-status household can put into practice.
“If the HIV family member or roommate uses medicines that require needles, there must be a sharps container in the home for safe disposal of the used needles,” he says.
“If the HIV-positive person were to sustain a bad cut that bled and needed help, [you] would want to put on protective latex or vinyl clothes before caring for them,” explains Braunstein.
“Really though, there are no other precautions that need to be taken regarding household management, cleaning, or waste management,” he says.
Some people include their partners and their partners’ partners in their definition of family.
If you or a partner are in a sexual relationship with an HIV-positive person in your house, it’s important to get tested for HIV.
PrEP is a daily oral medication that can help reduce your chance of contracting HIV if you experience exposure to the virus, she explains.
“Medicines like PrEP help to strengthen the emotional bond between partners in serodiscordant relationships,” says Concord.
Serodiscordant or mixed-status relationships occur when one person is HIV-positive and the others are HIV-negative.
“They help alleviate the worry of transmission,” he says.
“As a family member and other loved one of a person with HIV, you play a critical supporting role,” says Concord.
If you haven’t already, talk with your family or household member about what support they’d like.
You might ask or suggest:
- ”How do you feel about receiving text reminders to take your medication?”
- ”Would you like me to take you to your appointments?”
- ”Who are you sharing your change in status with?”
- ”Can I send you any information I learn about HIV?”
It’s important to keep showing up for yourself, too. Learning that a loved one is living with HIV can be difficult, especially given how society has used fear to warn against the infection.
It’s natural to feel stressed, scared, or otherwise overwhelmed. You might consider talking with a mental health professional about your feelings or joining a support group for people with HIV-positive loved ones.
HIV-negative people can — and do! — live safely with HIV-positive family members or roommates. HIV isn’t transmissible through ”casual” contact, so there’s no reason to avoid shared spaces or surfaces.
Instead, use this opportunity to show your support for your loved one.
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.