Fact Sheet: Treating HIV/AIDS
December 1, 2001
Treatment InformationAlthough advances have been made in treatments for HIV/AIDS, that does not mean AIDS is a manageable disease. There is no cure.
HIV/AIDS drugs can only prolong the onset of AIDS, not prevent it. The antiretroviral therapies that are available can be challenging to maintain, since many of the drugs have strict requirements that must be followed carefully to be effective. In addition, some drugs may cause negative side-effects.
Viral Load TestsPhysicians use viral load testing to monitor the progress of HIV levels in the blood and to help decide if or when to change medications.
The goal of treatment is to keep the blood level of HIV at an undetectable level. However, an undetectable level does not mean that someone is no longer infected with HIV. HIV still remains in the body.
Drug Combination Therapy
What It Can Do
What It Cannot Do
Importance of Adhering to Drug Therapy RoutinesEven though drug therapies can be inconvenient (many pills must be taken at precise times throughout the day), it is crucial to stick to the drug regimen. Skipping a dose of the drugs may enable HIV to mutate into a drug-resistant strain, resulting in a worsening of the disease.
Opportunistic InfectionsOpportunistic infections are conditions that often affect people with compromised immune systems but that are usually fought off by normal immune systems.
Tuberculosis (TB) is the most common cause of death for people with HIV/AIDS throughout the world. A skin test or a chest X-ray help to identify TB in the body. TB infection may develop into active TB disease, whose symptoms include severe coughing, fever, fatigue and weight loss. TB drugs are available but must be taken routinely to prevent drug-resistant strains.
Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) is transmitted through the same means as HIV, especially through injection drug use. Therefore, many HIV-positive people are also infected with HCV. HIV accelerates the progression of this liver-damaging virus.
Anal and cervical cancers, which may be caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), progress at a greater rate in HIV-positive people. It is imperative that HIV-positive people are examined frequently for these cancers.
Ways to Prevent Opportunistic InfectionsKeeping track of the CD4 level in an HIV-positive person's blood helps determine whether or not to start certain prophylaxes (preventive medications) for diseases. Although HAART reduces the rate of opportunistic infections, it is still important for HIV-positive people to use prevention techniques when infection is possible.
This article was provided by American Association for World Health. It is a part of the publication I Care ... Do You? Youth and AIDS in the 21st Century.