When HIVer Quintin E. Perez Jr. was hospitalized for pancreatitis lastyear, four friends appeared at his bedside, surprising him. “It wasgood to know somebody actually cares,” says Perez, 40. “If you don’thave that support, you feel isolated and alone.”

If thatsounds a tad obvious, think again. New research reveals thatfriendships lift more than just spirits—they can mean the differencebetween life and death. Earlier this year, a decade-long 1,477-personAustralian study of people over 70 found that those with extensivenetworks of friends lived 22% longer.

While the Aussie studydidn’t focus on HIVers, chief author Lynne Giles says “the message isthat a wide social network is important to health.” And unlike past,related research, this study shows that friendships—as distinct fromother support sources—foster longevity. Explains Giles, “We interactwith friends because we want to—family can be a source of stress.”

Studieshave long suggested that social ties are critical for HIVers. A 1999study of 82 gay men reported that 66 months after being infected, thosewith more social support were 40% less likely to develop AIDS thanthose with a less extensive social network. In 2000, a study of 129positive women showed that those who attended support groups lived onaverage 28 months longer than those who didn’t. Longtime HIVer andtherapist Ken Howard notes that finding positive friends can be key.“To successfully manage HIV,” he says, “you need to see otherssuccessfully living with HIV, too.”

For his part, Perez knows at least one reason pals are irreplaceable. “I can’t talk to my mother about everything,” he says.

Looking for new pals? Try…

  • POZ Personals. Of the 11,000 members, one will share your love of Italian art deco tea carts. Find romance at www.poz.com.

  • POZ Mentor. Rookie HIVers benefit from the advice of seen-it-all veterans at www.poz.com.

  • Meet other bighearted HIVers by volunteering at your local ASO. Visit www. aso finder.com.