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FAQ: Should I start ART soon after diagnosis?

for Veterans and the Public

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I was just diagnosed with HIV and my clinician wants me to start treatment right away. Does that sound like the right thing to do?

You may know that we currently recommend HIV treatment (called antiretroviral therapy, or ART) for everyone with HIV. That's because research studies show that effective ART improves the health of people with HIV no matter the stage of their infection, and it enormously reduces the chance of HIV passing to an HIV-negative sex partner. HIV providers almost always offer ART during one of the first clinic visits.

Some clinics and some local health departments go further and recommend that people with a new diagnosis of HIV start treatment immediately, either that same day or within the next few days. This approach sometimes is called "Treatment on Diagnosis" or "Rapid ART." There are several reasons for starting treatment at the time of HIV diagnosis, but the basic reason is that if early treatment is beneficial, starting treatment at the earliest possible time may be even better, and patients may get the benefits of ART sooner. This may be especially true for people who are diagnosed very soon after they are infected (during the acute HIV infection period). Also, we know that delays or barriers to getting clinic appointments are common, and it may take a while to get a prescription for ART, which can result in worse health outcomes. Strategies that get newly diagnosed people straight into care and onto treatment may bypass these barriers.

For individuals with new diagnoses of HIV who are starting ART immediately, clinicians must choose the treatment regimens carefully, and offer extra support and guidance. Please discuss this with your health care provider and decide whether you are ready to start treatment. Remember that this is your decision and you should be comfortable with it.