When to Start Antiretroviral Therapy
March 13, 2017
When Is It Time to Start Taking HIV Medicine?
Treatment with HIV medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART for short) is recommended for everyone infected with HIV. ART helps people with HIV live longer, healthier lives and reduces the risk of HIV transmission.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) guidelines on the use of HIV medicines in adults and adolescents recommend that people with HIV start ART as soon as possible. In HIV-infected people with certain conditions, it's especially important to start ART right away.
What Conditions Increase the Urgency to Start ART?The following conditions increase the urgency to start ART:
All pregnant women with HIV should take HIV medicines to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The HIV medicines will also protect the health of the pregnant woman.
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the most advanced stage of HIV infection. People with AIDS should start ART immediately.
HIV-Related Illnesses and Coinfections
Some illnesses that develop in people infected with HIV increase the urgency to start ART. These illnesses include HIV-related kidney disease and certain opportunistic infections (OIs). OIs are infections that develop more often or are more severe in people with weakened immune systems, such as people with HIV.
Early HIV infection
Early HIV infection is the period up to 6 months after infection with HIV. During early HIV infection, the level of HIV in the body (called viral load) is very high. A high viral load damages the immune system and increases the risk of HIV transmission.
Once a Person Starts ART, Why Is Medication Adherence Important?
ART is a life-long treatment that helps people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. Before starting ART, people with HIV discuss the benefits and risks of ART with their health care providers. They also discuss the importance of medication adherence -- taking HIV medicines every day and exactly as prescribed. Adherence to an HIV regimen prevents HIV from multiplying and destroying the immune system. Taking HIV medicines every day also reduces the risk of HIV transmission.
This fact sheet is based on information from the following sources:
From the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
This article was provided by AIDSinfo. Visit the AIDSinfo website to find out more about their activities and publications.
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