Hesperian Health Guides

When People with HIV Get Sick

In this chapter:

Health problems from HIV may come and go. These can take a lot of energy and family resources.

a sick young woman lying in bed while an older woman comforts her
Caring for sick people at home can be done by anyone, even though this is often considered “women’s work.”

If you are sick, try to see a health worker as soon as possible. You may also need to go to a clinic regularly to have an infection treated or to get medicines for HIV. But you may never need to stay in the hospital. Many people with HIV are more comfortable at home, cared for by family members in familiar surroundings.

Try to find a health worker, clinic, or doctor you trust who is experienced with HIV. Then go to the same person or clinic whenever you have a problem that does not get better with home treatment. Going to a clinic where you are known saves time, energy, and money and can help keep you out of the hospital.

In many communities, HIV programs send community health workers to people’s homes to help those with HIV.

Good home care includes trying to make sure that the person with HIV has enough nutritious food to eat and clean water to drink

If you are caring for someone who is seriously ill, be sure to take care of your own needs, too. Try to get help from other family members, friends, and people in the community. Community clubs, religious groups, youth clubs, and HIV self-help groups may assist you.

Community support often lets girls stay in school rather than doing home care.

Preventing infections in the home

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A few precautions can prevent spreading HIV infection through simple contact. In fact, the risk of getting infections like diarrhea is greater for a person with HIV than getting HIV is for any caregiver.

a woman using a pitcher to rinse a stained sheet in a washtub
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before and after giving all care.
  • Use clean water to wash dishes and food before eating or cooking.
  • Keep bedding and clothing clean. This helps keep sick people comfortable and helps prevent skin problems. To clean clothing or sheets stained with blood, diarrhea, or other body fluids:
    • keep them separate from other household laundry.
    • hold an unstained part and rinse off any body fluids with water.
    • wash the bedding and clothing in soapy water and hang to dry—in the sun if possible.
    • you can add bleach to the soapy water and soak 10 minutes before washing. Wear gloves or plastic bags on your hands.

Comfort and kindness are as important as cleanliness in caring for a person with HIV or AIDS.

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  • Avoid touching bloody body fluids with bare hands. Use a piece of plastic or paper, gloves, or a big leaf to handle dirty bandages, cloths, blood, vomit, or stool.
  • Do not share anything that touches blood. This includes razors, needles, any sharp instruments that cut the skin, and toothbrushes. If you must share such things, disinfect them before another person uses them.
  • Keep wounds covered on caregivers and on persons with HIV. Burn or bury soiled bandages that cannot be washed.

This page was updated:13 Nov 2023