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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 August 2006, 00:18 GMT 01:18 UK
'I am living with HIV, but it's not easy'
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Aids ribbon
Living today with HIV
Rob Dawson is a man on a mission - to make his life count.

Two-years ago Rob was diagnosed with HIV and he says that, since then, his life has changed.

"I have a different outlook on things.

"I feel better for knowing my status and I'm making so much more of my life than I was before.

Future

"I think about where I'll be in 15 years, not in a bad way but in a good way. I want to have done something."

But 25 years ago when HIV/Aids first came to light things were very different for those newly diagnosed.

I sometimes panic that I have not fulfilled all my goals
Rob Dawson

Doctors first noticed the HIV among homosexual men in the US. There was little that could be done to help those with the virus.

It was another 10 years before the introduction of effective anti-HIV treatments - making living with virus a long-term reality.

Now, the National Aids Manual (NAM) has produced a book 'Living with HIV', which tackles key topics such as diagnosis, treatment, working, sex, mother-to-baby transmission and the criminalisation of HIV transmissions.

Dr Mark Nelson, director of HIV services at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, said the picture had definitely changed for people with HIV.

"Twenty-five years ago there were no treatments and it was really a slow death.

"Someone would develop an infection and there was nothing that could be done about it.

"The diagnosis 25-years ago was death, now we can give treatment."

But Dr Nelson said that, although the treatment regimes and outcomes had improved, the drugs still carry toxicity risks.

And he added that those with HIV also carried a greater risk of developing certain cancers and heart problems.

Diagnosis

Rob, whose account features in the book, thought he knew when he got his diagnosis what was in store for him.

He works in health public relations, and a close friend was diagnosed at 18.

But he says he found his reaction to the diagnosis a surprise.

"There was a problem emotionally. I have been OK. I had read the literature and it gives you an easy picture, but it is not completely like that.

"My CD4 count - the cells that lead the body's fight against HIV - has been erratic and has never plateaued. I have not yet needed treatment.

Tombstone - the 1980s Aids awareness campaign
The 'Don't die of ignorance' campaign was used to alert the UK public to Aids

"Initially after my diagnosis, I got up and just went to work. But year later it hit me.

"What I hadn't expected were the panic attacks, the nightmares I had and the lack of breath.

"It took a while for me to calm down about it and I am not usually an anxious person.

"These were totally new experiences to me and I was finding it tough.

"Combined with the dermatitis, fatigue and continual stomach bugs I experienced, I felt like I was falling apart.

"It has made a difference to my life. I sometimes panic that I have not fulfilled all my goals and to suddenly panic is a new emotion for me."

Information

Lord Chris Smith, who was diagnosed with HIV 18 years ago, has written the preface to the book.

He explained that it provided a vital tool to HIV positive people.

"In 1988, information - however sketchy - was the key to understanding that being HIV-positive meant.

"Information is still the key today.

"And this book - with its accompanying first-hand accounts of the reality of life with HIV - provides an excellent introduction to the issues which so many of us affected by HIV live with, day-by-day."

For free copies of the book, available to anyone with HIV, telephone NAM on 0207 840 0050




SEE ALSO
Drug 'blocks the spread of HIV'
08 Jun 06 |  Health
Timeline: 25 years of HIV/Aids
04 Jun 06 |  Health

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