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What Does an HIV Specialist Do?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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A human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) specialist provides care to patients with HIV and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals can work as HIV specialists and in some cases may pursue certifications from professional organizations. These qualifications can be evidence of successful completion of a required number of hours as well as a commitment to excellence in care, and may be advantageous in employment applications and patient relations.

Patients diagnosed with HIV can often benefit from the attention of a specialist. HIV specialists constantly pursue continuing education to keep up with the latest developments in the field of HIV/AIDS treatment. Because they focus specifically on patients with these medical conditions, they also have substantial experience to apply to the treatment of both HIV and the complications associated with it. Seeing an HIV specialist may allow a patient to identify complications earlier and receive more aggressive treatment with the latest drug protocols.

In an initial client intake meeting, an HIV specialist can take a patient history and may request some baseline medical testing. One important test is a T cell count to determine the severity of the patient's illness. With this information in hand, the HIV specialist can work with the patient to develop a treatment plan and to provide advice on adhering to treatment, if the patient has difficulty taking medications, making lifestyle changes, and taking other steps to stay as healthy as possible.

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Some HIV specialists also connect their clients with useful social services. Patients who cannot afford medication may be eligible for assistance, for instance. Housing vouchers, educational programs, and other benefits may be available for struggling HIV patients. The HIV specialist may have concerns about the patient's quality of life, which can have a direct impact on health, and could work with the patient to resolve issues like untreated mental illness or homelessness.

Working directly with patients may comprise the bulk of a specialist's practice. Others also participate in public outreach and education. They provide information about HIV prevention and may participate in free clinics and other public resources to educate members of the public and help people detect HIV infections early. An HIV specialist can participate in prophylactic treatment for people known to be exposed to HIV. In this treatment, the patient receives a series of medications in an attempt to kill the virus before it starts replicating and creates a full-blown infection.

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