Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

  • Medical Author:
    Eric S. Daar, MD

    Dr. Daar received his undergraduate degree from UCLA and medical degree from Georgetown University School of Medicine. He completed an internship and residency in internal medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and his clinical and research fellowship in infectious diseases at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and UCLA.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

HIV/AIDS Myths and Facts

Quick GuideHIV AIDS Pictures Slideshow: Myths and Facts on Symptoms and Treatments

HIV AIDS Pictures Slideshow: Myths and Facts on Symptoms and Treatments

When should antiviral therapy be started?

Guidelines for starting antiviral therapy have been proposed by panels of experts from several groups, including the DHHS (http://www.aidsinfo.nih.gov) and IAS-USA. There are similar guidelines for treatment throughout Europe and by the World Health Organization for treatment in resource-limited countries. Until recently a recommendation supporting the start of therapy in those with CD4 cells greater than 500 cells was based upon evidence that ongoing viral replication, even in the setting of high CD4 cell counts, may be associated with damage to the brain, kidneys, heart, and possibly even liver. Along with this rationale, it was clear that newer regimens were easy to take, including a growing number of one-pill-per-day options, with minimal side effects. Another compelling argument that can be made for early therapy is the ability to reduce the risk of transmission to uninfected partners. A study called HPTN 052 demonstrated that amongst couples where one person is HIV-infected and the other is not, those who were on antiretroviral therapy were 96% less likely to transmit HIV to their uninfected partner than those not on treatment. Finally, a large study was recently reported that demonstrated unequivocally that starting therapy even with a CD4 cell count of greater than 500 cells/mm3 was associated with less risk of disease progression than waiting until CD4 cells were less than 350 cells/mm3. This study was called the START study and demonstrated a major reduction in disease progression with early therapy with virtually no increased risk for side effects. Based upon START, HPTN 052 and other accumulated data, currently all major guidelines around the world, including those of the World Health Organization recommend that antiretroviral therapy be initiated in all HIV-infected patients at the time of diagnosis. It is worth noting that these recommendations for universal treatment of HIV-infected patients will be limited by resources available for antiviral treatment in resource-limited countries.

Before starting treatment, patients must be aware of the short- and long-term side effects of the drugs, including the fact that some long-term complications may not be known. Patients also need to realize that therapy is a long-term commitment and requires consistent adherence to the drugs. In addition, clinicians and patients should recognize that depression, feelings of isolation, substance abuse, and side effects of the antiviral drugs can all be associated with the failure to follow the treatment program.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/17/2015

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