AIDS and HIV Treatment
The treatment of HIV/AIDS is a complicated affair. Not everyone is the same and what works incredibly well for one person with HIV may have no effect whatsoever on another.
What doctors do know is that current treatment is very successful in reducing the level of virus in the blood – it has had a huge effect in terms of improving both the quality of life and life expectancy of people with HIV.
The main treatment for HIV/AIDS is antiretroviral therapy. These are drugs which slow down the reproduction of the HIV virus and they have to be taken every day for the rest of a person’s life.
These days taking several of these drugs together – known as combination therapy or Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) - is the most effective treatment because it minimizes the ability of the virus to become resistant to the drugs. In other words, the more drugs battling the virus the harder it is for HIV to get the better of them.
There are four main types of antiretrovirals – nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors; non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors; protease inhibitors and entry inhibitors.
Each group works on different parts of the virus to prevent it multiplying. Although these drugs don’t constitute a cure, they have enabled HIV+ people to live healthy and relatively normal lives and have greatly reduced the number of deaths from AIDS related illnesses.
The combination of drugs may be changed if the virus develops a resistance or cross resistance to the drugs (the latter meaning it becomes resistant to different drugs within the same group).
Antiretrovirals are also used to treat and prevent opportunistic illnesses which strike when the body’s immune system can no longer protect against the virus.
Therapies such as HAART have worked wonders in slowing down the onset of opportunistic infections and improving the immune system’s ability to fight them off.
It’s important that these drugs are taken exactly as prescribed by a health professional – usually at the same time of day in a specific sequence and with certain foods. Some need to be taken before meals, others after meals. This strict regime is known as “adherence” and for many people with HIV it’s difficult to get used to. But it must become a way of life for their rest of their lives if they want the drugs to work properly.
When a person is first diagnosed with HIV their doctor may advise them to have a series of vaccinations to prevent certain illnesses such as flu, measles, and hepatitis B from taking advantage of an embattled immune system.
There’s a very small number of people who for one reason or another (in some cases because they are infected with a drug resistant strain of HIV) don’t benefit from combination therapy. In cases such as these treatment usually focuses on treating any opportunistic infections as best as possible.
Many of the antiretroviral drugs have not been around for very long, so more research is needed into their long term effects. As people infected with the virus are living longer this is giving medics the chance to study both the usefulness and adverse effects of antiretrovirals and to establish just how enduring their benefits really area.