After testing negative for HIV, should I stop taking ARVs?

A nurse takes blood samples for HIV testing during the World Aids Day celebrations in Kampala in 2017. PHOTO | RACHEL MABALA 

I tested HIV positive and started taking antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) in 2019. However, I was recently tested and there was no virus in my blood. Should I stop taking ARVs and instead take aspirin like I did before the test? SBN

Dear SBN, 
Negative test results after a period of taking ARVs simply means the drugs have been so effective that the blood was cleared of all or most of the HIV virus.

Machines used to test for HIV can detect the virus up to a certain minimum and stopping to take the drugs will increase the number of the viruses in one’s blood. Also, the virus hides itself in places referred to as sanctuaries such as the lymph nodes or the brain where the drugs cannot reach easily. This causes a more difficult to treat increase in blood numbers of the virus with worse disease consequences. It is, therefore, advised that one continues taking their ARVs to avoid resistance and keep the virus and disease in check.

Much as having no virus in their blood may protect those who are not infected, those exposed to the virus, say through unprotected sex, must go for HIV tests to avoid thinking that you can have un-protected sex and not get the virus.

Aspirin has been rumoured to cause a negative HIV test result but this is false since even the most effective drugs in treating HIV infection do not change one’s status from positive to negative.

Please keep taking your HIV drugs every day without fail. This way, you will not only defeat the virus but will also protect your loved ones from getting infected. Also, use condoms during sexual intercourse to protect yourself from drug resistant types of HIV as well as your partner from getting infection from you.

For further assistance, please see your HIV counsellor.


Can scar tissue stop me from using an IUD?
Because of a scar on my chest, I have been advised not to use a coil for family planning. Why? Susan

Dear Susan,
What is commonly referred to as a coil in Uganda is an Intra Uterine Contraceptive T-shaped device (IUD) with a copper wire that prevents pregnancy in almost 99 percent of cases. This may be effective for up to 10 years. The other type of IUD, which contains the progesterone hormone, is rarely used in Uganda.

Uterine abnormalities such as large fibroids that may interfere with proper insertion or retention of the IUD, a pelvic infection, uterine or cervical cancer, unexplained vaginal bleeding or an allergy to copper and getting a rare inherited copper storage disease (Wilson's Disease) are some of the reasons why one should avoid using the copper IUCD, but not a scar on the chest. 

One may have a copper allergy, which they may have noticed from reacting to earrings. Such women, rather than those with ear keloids or keloids on any other part of the skin that should avoid using a coil.

A keloid scar is a big raised scar that is usually bigger than the original wound size and this may grow most on skin of the earlobes, shoulders or the chest. 

Having a keloid scar on the skin of your chest does not mean that your womb is likely to get the same scars if you use IUDs for contraception. Keloids affect the skin not the womb where the IUCD is inserted.