- HIV/AIDS Myths and Facts
- Take the HIV/AIDS Quiz
- History of the HIV/AIDS Pandemic
- HIV-AIDS FAQs
- Patient Comments: Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV, AIDS) - Symptoms
- Patient Comments: Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) - Risk Factors and Transmission
- Find a local Infectious Disease Specialist in your town
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) facts
- What is the history of HIV, and when was HIV discovered?
- What tests are used in the diagnosis of HIV?
- How is HIV spread (transmitted)?
- What are symptoms and signs of HIV infection and AIDS in men, women, and children?
- What happens after an exposure to the blood or genital secretions of an HIV-infected person?
- What laboratory tests are used to monitor HIV-infected people?
- What are HIV treatments and medications? What are the key principles in managing HIV infection?
- When should antiviral therapy be started?
- What is the initial therapy for HIV?
- What are nucleoside and nucleotide analogue reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs)?
- What are nonnucleoside analogue reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs)?
- What are protease inhibitors?
- What are fusion inhibitors?
- What is a CCR5 antagonist?
- What is an integrase strand transfer inhibitor?
- What HIV drugs are in development?
- What are side effects of HIV therapy?
- What happens if the patient's viral load increases while on HIV therapy?
- What are the risks of missing doses or stopping antiviral therapy?
- Should patients with the flu- or mono-like illness of primary HIV infection be treated?
- What about treatment for HIV during pregnancy?
- What can be done for people who have severe immunosuppression?
- What is the future for HIV-infected individuals with regards to treatment simplification and cure research?
- What is in the future for preventing HIV transmission?
Quick GuideHIV AIDS Pictures Slideshow: Myths and Facts on Symptoms and Treatments
What are HIV treatments and medications? What are the key principles in managing HIV infection?
First of all, there is no evidence that people infected with HIV can be cured by the currently available therapies, although research related to curing people of infection will be discussed later. In general, those who are treated for years and are repeatedly found to have no virus in their blood by standard viral load assays will experience a prompt rebound in the number of viral particles when therapy is discontinued. Consequently, the decision to start therapy must balance the risk versus the benefits of treatment. The risks of therapy include the short- and long-term side effects of the drugs, described in subsequent sections, as well as the possibility that the virus will become resistant to the therapy, which can limit options for future treatment. The risks of both of these problems are quite small with the treatment options currently available.
A major reason that resistance develops is the patient's failure to correctly follow the prescribed treatment, for example, by not taking the medications at the correct time. If virus remains detectable on any given regimen, resistance eventually will develop. Indeed, with certain drugs, resistance may develop in a matter of weeks, such as with the nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) lamivudine (Epivir, 3TC) and emtricitabine (Emtriva, FTC), the drugs in the class of nonnucleoside analogue reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTI) such as nevirapine (Viramune, NVP), delavirdine (Rescriptor, DLV), efavirenz (Sustiva, EFV), and rilpivirine (Edurant, RPV), as well as the integrase strand transfer inhibitors (InSTIs) such as raltegravir (Isentress, RAL) and elvitegravir (Vitekta, EVG). Thus, if these drugs are used as part of a combination of agents that do not suppress the viral load to undetectable levels, resistance will develop rapidly and the treatment will lose its effectiveness. In contrast, HIV becomes resistant to other drugs, such as the boosted protease inhibitors (PIs), over months. These drugs are discussed in more detail in subsequent sections, but it is important to note that when resistance develops to one drug, it often results in resistance to other related drugs, so-called cross-resistance. Nevertheless, HIV-infected individuals must realize that antiviral therapy can be and typically is very effective. This is the case even in those who have a low CD4 cell count and advanced disease, as long as drug resistance has not developed.
What factors should be considered before starting antiviral therapy?
Until very recently, one of the biggest questions related to the management of HIV disease was the optimal time to start antiviral treatment. For some time, there had been very strong data demonstrating that therapy is appropriate for those with CD4 cells numbering less than 350 cells/mm3 in the blood. There have also long been strong recommendations to treat patients with select conditions regardless of their CD4 cell count, such as during pregnancy in order to prevent transmission of HIV to the baby or those who have HIV-associated renal disease or chronic hepatitis B infection where the antiviral treatment for HIV also treats the hepatitis virus. There are now several very large studies that have shifted all guidelines around the world to recommending treatment of all HIV-infected individuals at the time of diagnosis no matter what the CD4 cell count. Regardless, prior to initiating antiviral therapy, everything possible should be done to ensure that the patient is committed to the treatment, able to adhere to the regimen, and will follow up with his or her health-care professional to assess whether medications are tolerated and working.