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Fact Sheet: Treatment Information

December 1, 2000

There's Good News, But . . .

While there is still no cure for HIV/AIDS, new treatment drugs are dramatically prolonging the lives of many HIV-positive people and making them feel healthy. For some, however, the drugs have side effects that may prevent people from taking them. For others, the drugs simply do not work. Also, the long-term effectiveness of new drugs are relatively unknown. In addition, HIV-positive people with no health insurance can not afford these costly drugs.

Drug Combination Therapies

Drug combination therapies are often referred to as "highly active anti-retroviral therapies" (HAART). They are also called "drug cocktails" and include drugs such as protease inhibitors.

Viral Load Tests

Physicians use viral load testing to monitor the progress of the HIV 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 does still remain in the body.

The Risks of Skipping Doses

It can be very challenging to take all the HAART medications in the correct manner. People who follow their drug schedule precisely have the best outcomes. Those who miss doses of any of their drugs put themselves at risk for getting sicker and for developing drug-resistant strains of HIV.


Staying Healthy Longer

People who are HIV-positive can live healthy, productive lives for many years. Here are strategies to help you stay healthy longer:
  • Maintain a healthy life style. Exercise regularly, eat a nutritious diet, get enough sleep and limit alcohol intake and smoking.

  • Take all your HAART medications exactly as instructed. Do not miss any doses.

  • If you get sick from your medications, call your doctor for advice -- not friends. Choose a doctor who specializes in HIV. Ask questions about anything you don't fully understand.

  • Learn stress-management techniques to cope with the stress of living with HIV/AIDS. Have a good social support network and/or engage in activities such as prayer or meditation.

Opportunistic Infections

Depending on the CD4 count, an individual infected with HIV may be at increased risk for developing other diseases due to a weakened immune system. Some possible opportunistic infections include tuberculosis, pneumonia, cytomegalovirus (CMV), toxoplasmosis and cryptosporidiosis.

HIV and Hepatitis C

A serious new challenge for AIDS patients is co-infection with HIV and Hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C is the most common blood-borne infection in the U.S.. It can lead to liver scarring or cancer. Injection Drug Use (IDU) and hemophilia are the most important risk factors for HCV infection.
  • HCV and HIV are both increasingly being transmitted through injection drug use.

  • The rate of dual infection with both HCV and HIV is particularly high among IDU's and incarcerated individuals.

  • Preliminary studies reveal that hepatitis C progresses faster in individuals infected with HIV.

  • It is estimated that 40% of HIV-positive individuals in the U.S. are co-infected with HCV, and many are unaware of it.

  • Symptoms include dark yellow urine, light-colored stools, yellowish eyes and skin, nausea, loss of appetite, stomach pain and diarrhea.

HIV and Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease that affects the lungs primarily. Because HIV infection severely weakens the immune system, people infected with HIV have a significant risk of developing active TB.
  • Worldwide, TB is the leading cause of death among people infected with HIV, accounting for 1 in 3 deaths among the HIV infected.

  • Symptoms of TB include a bad cough that won't go away, coughing up blood, chest pain, fever, weight loss, night sweats and chills.

HIV and Diabetes

People who take the new AIDS drugs have a tendency to develop diabetes, a disease that prevents the body from using insulin to control blood sugar.
  • 13% of HIV-infected patients taking HIV protease inhibitors developed type 2 diabetes.

  • Symptoms of diabetes include excessive thirst and urination, hunger, and loss of weight.

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This article was provided by American Association for World Health. It is a part of the publication AIDS: All Men -- Make a Difference!.