Today’s HIV treatment encompasses a series of medications taken to slow the viruses progress in the body. It’s important to remember- though we are constantly making new advancements in the field of HIV/AIDS treatment, there is still no cure for the disease.
The drugs given to combat the disease
are called ‘Antiretrovirals’, or antiretroviral therapy, HIV
being a form of retrovirus. ARTs are accompanied by other ARTs when
taken, many used since the mid 1990’s. Though there isn’t yet a
cure in existence, ARTs can help keep a patient healthy for many
years, even preventing end stage HIV- AIDS- from ever developing.
This is the standard treatment recommended for anyone suffering from
HIV, no matter how long they’ve had the HIV virus.
Viral Load: ARTs both help
reduce and keep down a patient’s viral load, or the amount of virus
in their body & bodily fluids. Not only do they effectively slow
the progression of HIV, antiretroviral therapy can make it all but
impossible to transmit the virus to others.
How Does Antiretroviral Treatment Work?
Antiviral medications actually inhibit
certain steps in the HIV replication process, slowing the HIV
infection itself. The medications are used in combination every day
in a regimen developed by a specialized physician, recommended to
every HIV patient.
Essentially, these medications prevent
the HIV virus from creating copies of itself, drastically slowing the
spread of HIV in the body and giving the immune system an opportunity
to recover. There is always going to be some HIV in the body, but now
the immune system is strong enough to fight off infections.
- ART works by keeping your viral load low, thereby giving your immune system opportunity to recover.
Rotavirus: A retrovirus can be described as a kind of RNA virus that injects a copy of its genetic code into a host cell, thereby altering the genetic structure of that cell. HIV is a retrovirus, altering cells of the body into making copies of itself.
HIV works by attacking specialized
white blood cells normally meant to fight infections in the body.
After infecting a ‘CD4 cell’, the HIV virus will convert that
cell to a ‘virus producing factory’ to simply manufacture more
viruses, instead of the white blood cells it was meant to. Without
treatment to combat the disease, more and more cells will be
producing more and more virus, which in turn attack more cells and
continuously decrease the amount of healthy CD4 cells while
increasing viral load, and the system continues to feed itself.
That seemed like a lot! Very simply
said, HIV will attack and cause great harm to your immune system if
not treated. This opens the door to opportunistic infections, many of
which a healthy person might never even notice, to do extensive
- With today’s advancements in medical treatment and ARTs, many people with HIV are living just as long as people without!
- In many cases, ARTs allow people suffering from HIV to have the same relationships and start families just like those without.
- ARTs can even lower a person’s viral load to undetectable levels, meaning it exists in their bodies in such small quantities that there is no risk of transmission, and no adverse effect on their health.
- Stopping treatment will cause viral load to go back up.
It’s very normal to feel worried or
scared regarding treatment, or HIV in general. This can lead someone
to ignore the problem, choosing to forget rather than stress over the
solution. Ignoring the problem is one of the absolute worst things
one can do, creating a danger for both the patients and those around
Once you educate yourself, you’ll find that HIV is not that scary at all!
The U.S. Department of Health &
Human Services recommends antiretroviral therapy begin as soon as
possible for the patient after they’ve received a positive
diagnosis. The earlier treatment is started, the less damage the HIV
virus can do to the body. Early treatment also helps keep viral load
low, which in turn decreases the damage the virus can do.
- Today’s HIV treatments need to be taken every day for the rest of the patient’s life, although the requirements have diminished greatly since the mid 90’s.
- There are several different kinds of ART drugs and drug combinations. Be sure to discuss which one are right for you with your healthcare provider!
As with many medical treatments meant
to combat a disease so drastic, there are possible side effects a
patient might expect. Not every patient is going to experience side
effects of the treatment, and these side effects are without a doubt
preferable to the revenges AIDS can cause. Thankfully, the ART’s
developed today carry fewer side effects, and the ones that do occur
will vary from person to person, case to case. Be sure to tell your
doctor about any side affects you might be experiencing, and
- Lack of sleep
- Dry mouth
- Taking certain kinds or recreational drugs, outside of their obvious detriment to your already compromised health, can cause certain kinds of ARTs to stop working correctly.
- Most ARTs are taken once a day, sometimes with and sometimes without food. In the mid 90’s, it wasn’t uncommon to take 20 tablets a day; treatment has made great advances.
Just like adults, ART can help keep a
child with HIV healthy, letting them lead the same normal, fulfilling
life as everyone else! Just like adults, its recommended children
with HIV start treatment as soon as possible. Without treatment, HIV
will progressively damage a child’s immune system, just like an
adult. Depending on their age, young children may already have a
weakened immune system (compared to a healthy adult), so HIV can be
especially dangerous if untreated.
- Mothers can transmit HIV via breast milk.
- HIV can be spread from mother to
child during pregnancy or childbirth.