Protecting Myself from Communicable Illnesses

Living with HIV has taught me just how necessary it is to protect myself from communicable illnesses. While my immune system is recovering from where it was during my diagnosis, I still have a long way to go.

Communicable illnesses are the result of pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria, and spreads from one person or animal to another or from a surface to a person.1

Routine health visits

One thing that I never miss is my scheduled 3- to 6-month labs and infectious disease (ID) check-ups. The exam that I struggle with the most is my routine dental check-ups. I had a really bad experience with a dentist when I was younger. This gives me a lot of anxiety when I go to the dentist.

Infectious disease check-ups are extremely important for those of us living with HIV. By attending our ID appointments, we can have a real understanding of how our bodies are responding to the virus and our antiviral medication. Additionally, we need to make sure our viral load stays undetectable to reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to our partners.

Regular dental appointments are also important since we are more likely to develop infections, which include oral infections. Personally, I have struggled with issues such as thrush and dental decay. Oral health issues can affect how well we eat, which can cause another host of issues.

Staying up-to-date on vaccinations

Since my diagnosis, I have made sure to get my flu shot every year. This is something I did not do before diagnosis. Since I had pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) after becoming positive, I have received 2 different types of pneumonia vaccinations. Both my primary care doctor and my pharmacist assist me in staying up-to-date with my vaccinations.

While there are no vaccines to prevent HIV, people with HIV can benefit from vaccines against other diseases, especially because they are at a higher risk of getting them.2

This is why I have received all of the pneumonia vaccines. Some vaccines may be recommended for a person with HIV based on the person's age, previous vaccinations, risk factors for a particular disease, or certain HIV-related factors.2

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Personal hygiene practices

To stay healthy, I try to maintain good hand hygiene. This means that I frequently wash my hands and carry hand sanitizer, especially when I am not home. While we do not have a lot of guests over, we still clean the house regularly. I also disinfect common surfaces frequently.

When I am outside of my home, I use a lot of hand sanitizer. I also always have my own pens in my purse, which reduces the amount of touching things that others have touched.

Habits for immune health

Over the years, I have developed some habits that help my immune health. Some of these habits include elements such as a balanced diet, adequate sleep, B-12 injections, and a medication regimen.

Balanced diet

One of the most challenging habits to accomplish is eating a balanced diet. Healthy eating happens to connect directly with exercise and sleep health to improve our immune system.

Depending on my income, it can be hard to regularly obtain fresh produce, such as fruit and vegetables, or even meat at times. I have learned to make the most of the resources available to me to obtain the food that I need. Sometimes this means attending food pantries or mobile food banks to supplement what I can purchase.

Adequate sleep

Another habit that I use to improve my ability to protect myself from communicable illnesses is to try to get adequate sleep. Some nights, I must try harder than other nights to get good sleep because I have insomnia. A component that I use to acquire adequate sleep is managing my stress levels. I enjoy some self-care, such as hot baths and face masks. I find spending this time on myself helps me unwind for bed.

Over the years, I have read various sleep hygiene articles and have implemented several of the tips. I make sure to keep my room completely dark and cool. Additionally, I get up when I am unable to sleep until I am ready to try again.

B-12 injections

For the longest time, I have struggled with anemia and low B-12 levels. I use weekly B-12 injections to combat these issues. Luckily, I can administer the injections myself at home. This saves me from having to go to the doctor for my injections.

Medication regimen

I take a variety of medications daily for various health issues. Most medications need to be taken at the same time every day. This fact in connection with needing to stay on a nightly routine to combat my insomnia, I take my medications around the same time every night.

Avoiding exposure

One of the most important elements of protecting myself from communicable illnesses is avoiding exposure.

My sister started the game of avoidance first. If she or the kids are ill in any way, we reschedule the activities we had planned. Children can be little germ factories, especially when you are not used to being around their germs. Most of my family and friends have picked up this method of avoidance as well.

When I know that I will be in public or around strangers, I make sure to use products like Emergen-C. Additionally, if I am in public and people are coughing or sneezing, I keep my distance from them as much as possible. I have always been a firm believer in social distancing. While those elements help, I am also sure to use plenty of hand sanitizer.

Protecting myself from illness

Protecting myself from communicable illnesses is important for maintaining my health. These habits may seem like a pain, but they have improved my quality of life. I spend less time fighting off communicable illnesses and having these communicable illnesses turn into a major health complication for me. For me, this makes it well worth it.

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