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Fact Sheet: Treating HIV/AIDS

December 1, 2001

A note from TheBody.com: Since this article was written, the HIV pandemic has changed, as has our understanding of HIV/AIDS and its treatment. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

Treatment Information

Although 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 Tests

Physicians 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.

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Drug Combination Therapy

What It Can Do

  • HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy) is a combination of several drugs taken to decrease the amount of HIV in a person's blood.

  • Antiretroviral drugs can increase the number of years between contracting HIV and developing AIDS, even though they are not able to prevent the onset of AIDS.

  • Antiretroviral drugs can also make an HIV-positive person feel healthier.


What It Cannot Do

  • No drug has been discovered that cures HIV/AIDS.

  • Current drug therapies do not prevent the transmission of HIV. Even if an HIV-positive person feels free of HIV, he/she should still engage in healthy behaviors, such as the use of condoms and clean needles, to prevent transmitting the disease.

  • In some cases, drug therapies for HIV will not always make a person feel better. An HIV-infected person might experience side-effects, such as nausea, headaches, weakness and diarrhea, while on the drug treatment.


Importance of Adhering to Drug Therapy Routines

Even 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 Infections

Opportunistic 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 Infections

Keeping 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.


Although HIV/AIDS drug therapy is very demanding and can be inconvenient, it is vital that the drugs be taken exactly as ordered, with precise dosages taken at specific times throughout the day. Failure to do so can cause the HIV virus to mutate and the disease to worsen.

A note from TheBody.com: Since this article was written, the HIV pandemic has changed, as has our understanding of HIV/AIDS and its treatment. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!



  
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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.
 
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