The basics of an HIV treatment, which will not let you have AIDS

Globally, AIDS is the major cause of death among women of reproductive age and according to the World Health Organization, it is a major global health issue which has claimed almost 34 million lives. The statistics do seem scary, right? Yes, they are scary, but with these facts we would also like to tell you that the fight against this pandemic has resulted in averting around 8 million deaths since last 15 years. And most of the credit to this achievement can be attributed to the advancements in medical science which came with antiretroviral therapy (ART), which serves as the most effective HIV treatment mechanism. Though ART cannot entirely wipe out HIV from blood, but it can help people with HIV to live healthier and longer lives and it also reduces the risks of transmission. It can make the patients reach at levels where the viral load cannot be detected in blood tests, which can greatly reduce the risk of transmission. Here, we are going to discuss the basics of this HIV treatment.

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1 What is antiretroviral therapy?

Antiretroviral Therapy is basically the treatment of HIV infection done through a combination of medicines aimed at reducing the amount of HIV in the body. This treatment is recommended to anyone who has HIV, regardless of whether they have AIDS or not.

Till a few years ago, anyone who had HIV also had AIDS (which happens when the immune system becomes so weak that it is not able to fight infections), but with ART, one can now be HIV positive and not have AIDS, if the HIV treatment is done consistently and properly. This means that ART makes people live longer and healthier lives, even if they have HIV.

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What is antiretroviral therapy?

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2 Importance of the medicines

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), attacks the immune system of the body and destroys the infection-fighting CD4 cells. When the count of CD4 cells becomes too low, the body is unable to fight off infections and HIV-related cancers. The HIV medicines given in the antiretroviral therapy prevent HIV from multiplying, thus reducing the amount of the virus in the body. The immune system of the body gets a chance to recover with less HIV in the blood stream. Though some amount of HIV might still be present in the body, but the immune system becomes strong to fight off infections. And with this, the chances of transmission of the virus also reduce substantially.

Importance of the medicines

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3 What are the functions of HIV medicines in the antiretroviral therapy?

The HIV medicines, which are included in the HIV regimen, are grouped into six drug classes, which include almost 25 approved medicines. The drug classes are as follows:

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  1. Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs)- This class of drugs bind to and block a certain HIV enzyme and prevents the replication of the virus.
  2. Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs)- This class of drugs block reverse transcriptase (an HIV enzyme), thus preventing HIV from converting its RNA into DNA, basically it prevents the replication of the virus.
  3. Protease Inhibitors (PIs)- This class of drugs helps in inhibiting protease, another HIV enzyme. The PIs prevent the new and immature virus to turn into a mature one, which can infect other CD4 cells of the immune system.
  4. Fusion inhibitors- This class of drugs prevent the entry of HIV into the CD4 cells.
  5. CCR5 antagonists (also known as entry inhibitors)- As the name suggests, this class of drugs prevent the HIV from entering into the healthy cells of the immune system.
  6. Integrase strand transfer inhibitors (INSTIs)- The activities of an HIV enzyme by the name of integrase are stopped by this class of drugs. Integrase is used by HIV to insert its viral DNA in the DNA of the host cell, thus blocking this enzyme helps prevent HIV from multiplying.
HIV medicines in the antiretroviral therapy

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The initial HIV regimen of the patients usually includes three or more medicines, which should be taken from at least two different drug classes mentioned above. Take the medicines under proper guidance from your doctor and always follow the advice given by your doctor.

4 When shall one start ART?

There are a variety of factors which will help you and your doctor decide exactly when to start with this life-long treatment. Although, the sooner the better, but these factors always play an important role in the final decision:

  • Your overall health with regard to HIV and other diseases
  • Your CD4 count. If the CD4 count is falling, it is an indication that the HIV is advancing and constantly weakening the immune system. The late you start the treatment, the more will be the loss of these cells which basically fight off infections.
  • Your readiness to start this life-long treatment, which is most important because if you are not able to stick to the regimen, you may witness more problems and complications.
  • So be physically, mentally and psychologically ready to start this battle which you will win each day if you take your medicines properly.
When shall one start ART?

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5 Potential risks of the treatment

Though, this HIV treatment is life-saving as it helps a person to live longer. The treatment is a life-long process and you must be having this knowledge that any medication when taken for a long period of time has its side-effects. Some side effects of the HIV medicines are headaches, occasional dizziness, swelling in the mouth or tongue and even liver infections, which can sometimes be life-threatening.

But the bigger risks of the ART are drug interaction and drug resistance. When the patients are taking medicines in varying combinations, there might be chances that some medicines interact with other medicines of the HIV regimen or any other medicines that the patient is taking, and this can lead to unwanted side effects. Drug resistance is one of the biggest risks and can lead to failure of the treatment. When the virus multiplies in the body, it sometimes mutates and forms into a stronger virus which then cannot be controlled by the drugs being taken at that time. These drug-resistant strains of HIV then continue to multiply in the body.

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Potential risks of treatment

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The problems of drug resistance and treatment failure can happen if one is not careful in taking medicines. Medicine should be taken just as instructed; otherwise poor adherence may lead to fatal consequences. Make sure that you take your medicines every day and on time and exactly like it has been told to you. We are repeating this, because this is the most important thing, you may lose your battle against HIV if you do not fight it daily with the same vigor.

The fight against HIV is surely an intense one, but how can you withdraw or lose this battle. People were not lucky until a few years ago and most of the patients infected with HIV had AIDS, but now, you can stop that and not have AIDS even if you are HIV positive. Don’t let anything make you lose your focus, and keep fighting against this deadly virus. The World is with You!

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