Do you have HIV? How will taking HIV medications help you?
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). By damaging your immune system, HIV interferes with your body’s ability to fight infection and disease.
HIV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It can also be spread by infected blood or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breast-feeding. Without medication, it may take years before HIV weakens your immune system to the point that you have AIDS.
You can’t become infected with HIV through ordinary contact. That means you can’t catch HIV or AIDS by hugging, kissing, dancing or shaking hands with someone who has the infection. HIV isn’t spread through the air, water or insect bites.
There’s no cure for HIV/AIDS, but medications can dramatically slow the progression of the disease. These drugs have reduced AIDS deaths in many developed nations. In fact, drugs used in HIV treatment these days are so effective that so long as one continues on effective treatment, they can live as long as someone who does not have HIV.
What is the treatment for HIV?
The treatment for HIV is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART involves taking a combination of HIV medicines (called an HIV treatment regimen) every day.
ART is recommended for everyone who has HIV. Although a cure for HIV does not yet exist, ART can keep you healthy for many years and help people with HIV live longer, healthier and fulfilling lives. ART also reduces the risk of HIV transmission.
Also read: Living With A PLHIV (Person Living With HIV)
How do HIV medicines work?
HIV attacks and destroys the infection-fighting CD4 cells of the immune system. Loss of CD4 cells makes it hard for the body to fight off infections and certain HIV-related cancers.
HIV medicines prevent HIV from multiplying (making copies of itself), which reduces the amount of HIV in the body (called the viral load). Having less HIV in the body gives the immune system a chance to recover and produce more CD4 cells. Even though there is still some HIV in the body, the immune system is strong enough to fight off infections and certain HIV-related cancers.
By reducing the amount of HIV in the body, HIV medicines also reduce the risk of HIV transmission. A main goal of HIV treatment is to reduce a person’s viral load to an undetectable level. An undetectable viral load means that the level of HIV in the blood is too low to be detected by a viral load test. People with HIV who maintain an undetectable viral load have effectively zero risk of transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative partner as recent large studies have proved.
If left untreated, HIV attacks your immune system and can allow different types of life-threatening infections and cancers to develop. If your CD4 cell count falls below a certain level, you are at risk of getting an opportunistic infection. These are infections that don’t normally affect people with healthy immune systems but that can infect people with immune systems weakened by HIV infection. Your health care provider may prescribe medicines to prevent certain infections.
HIV treatment is most likely to be successful when you know what to expect and are committed to taking your medicines exactly as prescribed. Working with your health care provider to develop a treatment plan will help you learn more about HIV and manage it effectively.
When is it time to start taking HIV medicines?
Treatment guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend that a person with HIV begin antiretroviral therapy (ART) as soon as possible after diagnosis. Starting ART slows the progression of HIV and can keep you healthy for many years. It is especially important for people with AIDS-defining conditions or early HIV infection to start HIV medicines right away. (Early HIV infection is the period up to 6 months after infection with HIV).
Women with HIV who become pregnant and are not already taking HIV medicines should also start taking HIV medicines as soon as possible.
What should people know about taking HIV medicines?
Taking HIV medicines keeps people with HIV healthy and prevents HIV transmission. Taking HIV medicines every day and exactly as prescribed (called medication adherence) also reduces the risk of drug resistance.
But sometimes HIV medicines can cause side effects. Most side effects from HIV medicines are manageable, but a few can be serious. Overall, the benefits of HIV medicines far outweigh the risk of side effects. In addition, newer HIV medicines cause fewer side effects than medicines used in the past. As HIV treatment continues to improve, people are less likely to have side effects from their HIV medicines.
HIV medicines can interact with other HIV medicines in an HIV regimen or with other medicines a person is taking. Health care providers carefully consider potential drug interactions before recommending an HIV regimen.
If you think you may have HIV infection, take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones by talking to our doctors about getting tested and treated early. 4th Generation HIV Testing | Anonymous HIV Testing