Telling people you are HIV-positive

Many questions may be going through your mind about who you should tell and how they will react. Take some time to plan who you will tell and when you will tell them.

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Who should I share the news about my HIV status with?

You should share the news about your status with:

  • Current and past sexual partners, if you can contact them without putting yourself in danger. Some states also have laws that require you to tell your HIV status. If you do not feel safe contacting your sexual partners yourself, contact your state or local health department to get help. Some local health departments can notify your sexual contacts without giving your name.
  • Anyone you may have shared needles with
  • Your doctor and other health care providers

You may want to consider sharing the news about your status with:

  • Family and friends you trust to be supportive
  • Your children
  • Your employer

You may fear that friends or family would leave you or that you would face discrimination. You might worry about being judged or feel guilty about past drug use or sexual behavior. But by sharing the news, you may find a support network that can help you deal with the stresses of having HIV and help you to feel less alone.

What are some ways I can tell my children I have HIV?

A major concern for mothers with HIV is whether to tell their kids about their HIV and when and how they will do it.

Here are some tips for talking to your kids about your HIV status:

  • Take care of yourself first. Make sure you have the help you need and are in control of your feelings before you talk to your children about your HIV.
  • Know your child. Is your child mature enough to understand the information?
  • Educate yourself about HIV so you can answer your children's questions in an age-appropriate way.
  • Plan for what you're going to say ahead of time. Write out some notes to help keep you on track.
  • Plan the time and place where you will tell them.
  • Make sure your children know they can't "catch" HIV from living with you. Kids are likely to worry about their own health.
  • Get them more support. Find a health professional who can talk more with your children about HIV. Consider letting your child's teacher, principal, or school nurse know you are dealing with a health problem so they can support your child at school.
  • Prepare them for getting tested, if needed. Your children will need to be tested for HIV if they were born before you were diagnosed and you do not have a previous negative HIV test from after the time of their birth. Many people can be without symptoms for a long time after they get infected with HIV. This is also true for children who may have been infected through mother-to-child transmission.

Do I have to tell my employer about my HIV status?

Having HIV doesn't mean you have to stop working. But you need to understand your rights in the workplace. The law says that you can't be fired for having HIV and that your employer must meet your basic needs. The Americans with Disabilities Act gives federal civil rights protections to people with HIV.

You do not have to tell your employer about your HIV status. But there may be reasons that it would be good for you to tell:

  • You may need special permission or a private place to get breaks to take your HIV medicine on time.
  • You may have to take extra time off for doctor appointments.
  • You work in a place that raises the risk for transmission to others, such as a hospital or lab.1

If you do share your HIV status, you have the right to complete confidentiality. This information must be kept apart from your personnel files.

Your employer is required by law to try to accommodate what you need to take care of your health. If you believe you were fired because of your HIV status, contact a lawyer who specializes in job discrimination.1 It is illegal to discriminate against you because you have HIV.

Learn more about your rights as a woman living with HIV and how to file a complaint if your rights have been violated.

What can happen if I tell my HIV status to others?

Many people with HIV share their status with people who are supportive. However, some women with HIV face discrimination. If you're being refused housing or medical care, or if your child with HIV is denied access to a school or program, you have rights. You are protected under a number of laws in the United States. The main ones are the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

If you think your rights have been violated because of your HIV status, contact a private attorney or your local legal aid office. Do not wait. There could be deadlines for filing certain types of complaints.

Are there laws about sharing my HIV status with my sex partner(s)?

Whether or not you are required by law to share your HIV status depends on where you live. Some states and cities have partner-notification laws. This means that if you test positive for HIV, you (or your doctor) may be legally required to tell your sex or needle-sharing partners.

In some states, if you have HIV and don't tell your partner(s), you can be charged with a crime. Some health departments require doctors to report the name of your sex and needle-sharing partner(s) if they know that information, even if you refuse to report that information yourself.2

Some states also have laws that require clinic staff to notify a person if they know that person has a significant risk for exposure to HIV. This is called "duty to warn."2

Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Labor. (n.d.). Employment and Living with HIV/AIDS: A Resource Guide. (PDF, 224 KB)
  2. AIDS.gov. (2012). HIV Disclosure Policies and Procedures.