This Is How Far HIV Treatment Has Come
Even though there is no cure for HIV yet, treatment options increase and advance within the minute. At this point, HIV treatment involves medications that when taken on regular basis, can slow the virus’ progression in the body. In addition, scientists constantly come up with new ways to prevent and fight this virus, which brings us one step closer to finding the cure.
Antiretroviral Therapy and Treatment
The drugs used for HIV treatment are called antiretrovirals, while the therapy is called antiretroviral therapy. These drugs always come in combinations and are used since the mid-1990s. Even though they do not cure the disease completely, they are the reason why AIDS-related deaths have dropped over these past two decades.
If taken correctly and consistently, ART can reduce the viral load in the bodily fluids and keep the patient healthy for many years to come. Furthermore, it reduces the chances of transmission significantly, which makes it possible for HIV patients to live with the disease.
Why is ART Important?
Regardless of how long you have the disease, HIV treatment is crucial if you want to protect the health and basically, keep yourself alive. Therefore, adherence to treatment is crucial for HIV patients since without it, they will eventually develop AIDS.
If you do not treat HIV, this virus will attack the immune system and allow for different types of cancers and infections to develop. These infections do not affect people with healthy immune systems, which puts HIV-diagnosed patients at a much higher risk than those who do not have the virus.
In addition to the regular HIV treatment, your doctor may prescribe medicines used to prevent certain infections.
How does ART Work?
In few words, HIV attacks the CD4 cells that fight off infections in the body. Once these cells are destroyed, the body cannot fight off HIV-related cancers and infections. Therefore, ART has been invented to prevent the virus from multiplying.
The medicines that are nowadays used for this purpose reduce the HIV amount in the patient’s body. By doing this, they are giving the immune system a solid chance to recover.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that the body is completely free from HIV.
HIV regimens use a variety of medicines, grouped in six classes according to the ways they fight the virus. The initial regimen for HIV includes a combination of three HIV medicines from a minimum of two different drug classes.
How is the regimen selected?
There are several factors based on which the selection is done. These factors include:
- potential drug interactions between the used medicines
- possible and previous side effects of the medicines
The success with a particular regimen is different from one patient to another, which is why there are several combinations patients can try out.
Risks of Taking HIV Medicines
As with any treatment, ART also comes with potential risks. These risks include:
Every HIV medicine can interact with another HIV medicine in the regimen. They can also interact with other medicines the patient takes, including vitamins and even herbal products.
When a drug interaction takes place, this can increase or reduce the effect of the treatment on the body, as well as become a cause for side effects.
Side effects can vary depending on the patient and the medicine itself. People can have a variety of side effects, starting from mild ones such as dizziness and headaches, to life-threatening side effects such as liver damage or swelling of the tongue.
It is no secret that HIV can mutate when it multiplies in the body. Variations of this virus can lead to drug resistance, which means that the currently used medications do not have the wanted effect in the patient’s body.
Milestones in HIV Treatment Research
Finally, the reason why we enthusiastically look up to scientists, patiently waiting for the HIV cure – the milestones in research. Researchers worldwide work hard at finding new treatments and drugs, which is why therapies are more and more numerous as medicine progresses.
The aim of scientists is to find therapies that improve the quality of life and eventually, cure the disease completely. In addition, they hope to develop a vaccine that would prevent HIV and AIDS altogether.
Here is a brief list of some promising studies:
Exploring Functional and Sterilizing Cure
The immune system struggles with targeting the HIV in the body’s cells. This is the reason why the existing antiretroviral therapy cannot eliminate them and cure the virus. For this reason, researchers are looking for:
- functional HIV cure that would control the replication
- sterilizing HIV cure that would eliminate the virus completely
Clean HIV Virus Cells
Have you heard of the researchers at the University of Illinois and their progress in treating HIV? These people may be on a right path to finding a way to clean the cells of this virus. Seeing that the HIV hides in the capsid of our cells and this is the part where genetic material is stored, researchers believe that they can create a formula that reveals the HIV by using high-powered computers.
The Functionally Cured Berlin Man
If you have been diagnosed with HIV, you have surely heard of the Berlin man who was cured from HIV. After chemotherapy, stem cell transplantation and total body irradiation, this patient is HIV free for over 6 years now. According to the NIH, this person is ‘effectively cured’.
How Far Have We Come?
HIV treatment options progress more rapidly than we all imagined. If you consider that it was only 30 years ago when researchers did not understand the virus altogether, the current treatment is a huge step towards finding a way to completely fight off HIV and AIDS.
Over the past decades, technology and medical advances brought more and more advanced treatments. At this point, medicine can slow the HIV progression, prevent moms from sharing the virus with their babies and make the life of HIV patients much easier.
And most importantly, a proper drug therapy can decrease the viral load to undetectable levels. This is a good start and progress towards a cure, isn’t it?