HIV and AIDS (cont.)
After HIV infection is confirmed, your doctor will start you on a drug regimen consisting of several drugs; combinations of different types of anti-HIV drugs sometimes are called HAART, for highly-active antiretroviral therapy (HIV is a kind of virus called a retrovirus).
Taking HAART therapy is very manageable yet isn't necessarily easy. These drugs must be taken at the right time, every single day. Also, a range of side effects may occur, including: diarrhea, nausea, rash, vivid dreams, or abnormal distribution of body fat. And, especially if medications are taken incorrectly or inconsistently, the virus can mutate, or change, into a strain resistant to treatment. The good news is that there are now several HIV medications that are only taken once a day. If there is resistant virus, however, these may not work and other medication options must be used.
If your disease has progressed to AIDS, your treatment may also include drugs to combat and prevent certain infections.
How Do I Know if the HIV Treatments Are Working?
Your doctor can monitor how well your HIV treatment is working by measuring the amount of HIV in your blood (also called the viral load.) The goal of treatment is to get the viral load undetectable on labs tests; ideally less than 20 copies. This does not mean the virus is gone or cured, it means the medication is working and must be continued.
How Can I Keep From Getting HIV?
The best way to protect yourself from HIV is to avoid activities that put you at risk. There's no way to tell by looking at someone if he or she has HIV. Always protect yourself.
How Can I Prevent HIV From Progressing to AIDS?
You can help prolong your life by taking good care of yourself and developing a good relationship with an experienced doctor specializing in HIV and AIDS. Also, be consistent about taking your HIV medications as prescribed and getting regular lab work to catch any problems early.
What Is the Outlook for Someone With HIV or AIDS?
It depends on if that person is on treatment and how the virus responds to early treatment. When treatment fails to decrease the replication of the virus, the effects can become life threatening, and the infection can progress to AIDS.
Even with treatment, some people seem to naturally experience a more rapid course towards AIDS. However, the majority of HIV patients who receive appropriate treatment do well and live healthy lives for years.
For more information, contact the CDC National AIDS Hotline: 1 (800) CDC-INFO (232-4636).
WebMD Medical Reference
Last Editorial Review: 8/13/2012