HIV-Positive People on Long-Term Antiretroviral Treatment Continue to Have Low HIV Viral Loads, Study Finds

HIV-positive people who take antiretroviral drugs for several years continue to have low HIV viral loads, according to a study published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, BBC News reports.

For the study, researchers from the Karolinska Institute followed 40 HIV-positive people for seven years. Although physicians typically do not record viral loads after they fall below 50 copies per milliliter of blood, the study authors used specialized equipment to measure participants' viral loads below this level. They found HIV viral loads of less than 50 copies per milliliter of blood in 77% of the participants. The findings suggest that although antiretrovirals can suppress HIV, they cannot eradicate the virus, BBC News reports. According to the researchers, the finding confirms that HIV-positive people must take antiretrovirals indefinitely to keep viral loads suppressed. The researchers added that the risk of transmitting the virus to others while on antiretrovirals is low but possible. In addition, the risk of drug resistance increases in HIV-positive people who do not take antiretrovirals consistently, the researchers said.

Sarah Palmer, lead study researcher, said it is "extremely important that new" HIV treatments that eradicate the virus are developed because the "side effects associated with long-term HIV treatment" with available antiretrovirals "can be severe." Keith Alcorn of the HIV/AIDS information group NAM said scientists are looking into treatments that would eliminate HIV from cells (BBC News, 3/11).

Online The study is available online (.pdf).


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