can HIV be cured naturally?
There is no cure or vaccine for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection; however, early treatment can help increase the life expectancy of infected people.

Although there is no cure for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, there are treatments that allow most people infected with the virus to live a long and healthy life. 

  • Antiretrovirals can be used to suppress the virus in people living with HIV.
  • Proper treatment may reduce the HIV levels in the blood to very low and even undetectable levels.

Until the late 1980s, HIV infection almost always resulted in death. People would develop AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) within a few years or even months of contracting the virus, a disease that destroys the body's ability to defend itself against threats, such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, and some types of cancer cells.

However, people living with HIV can now expect to live as long (or nearly as long) as anyone else. Though there is no cure for HIV, early detection can help with the timely initiation of antiretroviral therapy, which can prevent the virus from causing immune system damage.

Treatment for life

  • Without treatment, a newly infected person can expect to live for about 10 years more, during which time they will most likely be sick and weak.
  • Modern HIV treatments, particularly highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), have transformed the infection from a death sentence to a chronic illness that can be managed for decades.
  • Researchers now estimate that a 25-year-old with a newly diagnosed HIV infection can expect to live nearly 40 years longer as a result of these treatments.
  • Because many HIV medications have severe side effects, keep in close contact with your doctor about your symptoms. They may be able to adjust the dosage or change your medication regimen if necessary.

Living well, staying healthy

  • A healthy diet is a great place to start. Because your immune system is fueled by nutrients, one of your primary defenses against HIV is a healthy diet. Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  • If your medications make you lose your appetite or cause stomach problems, speak with your doctor or dietitian for specific advice.
  • Recreational drugs, smoking, and heavy drinking will weaken your immune system and impair your judgment.
  • You should avoid unsafe foods, such as raw seafood, unpasteurized milk, and undercooked meats to avoid other infections.
  • Wash your hands frequently to keep colds and other common illnesses at bay.
  • Every year, you should get a flu shot and make sure all of your other immunizations are up to date.
  • Regular exercise will help you feel your best both mentally and physically. Furthermore, getting enough sleep will give your body the strength and energy it needs to fight your illness.

Healthy mind, healthy body

  • It is natural to be concerned; however, if anxiety and depression are interfering with your life or depleting the strength and energy you need to fight your illness, you will need to seek a mental health professional's help.
  • Counseling and relevant medications can both provide much-needed relief.
  • You should take some time to unwind and relax. Hobbies that relieve stress and distract you from your disease can be an important part of your treatment.

5 possible HIV cures

Here are 5 possible cures that scientists are looking into:

  1. A vaccine
    • A vaccination, while technically not a cure, would be a powerful tool in the fight against HIV infection.
    • A few studies gave scientists hope that a vaccine for HIV might be possible.
    • There are projects underway to develop a vaccine. However, if successful, this could be the most significant step toward a vaccine and researchers are closer than they have ever been.
    • Many diseases have been nearly eradicated in the past with help of vaccination.
  2. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) as a cure
    • It has been demonstrated that treating the virus within the first 48 hours of exposure can significantly reduce the size of the hidden HIV reservoir in the body.
    • This method is appropriate for some people (for example, newborn babies born to HIV-positive mothers), but it will not work for everyone.
    • However, many people do not receive HIV treatment on time and realize they have HIV until months after being exposed.
    • This is another reason why it is critical to get HIV tests if you think that you have been exposed to the infection.
    • Overall, researchers believe that ARTs will not suffice as a cure strategy. Instead, ARTs could be included as part of a treatment plan.
  3. Stem cell transplants
    • A stem cell transplant involves introducing healthy stem cells that rebuild the immune system.
    • This is commonly used to treat leukemia, a type of blood and bone marrow cancer that spreads throughout the body.
    • However, stem cell transplants are risky, costly, and require very specific donors because the body may reject the new cells.
  4. Shock and kill technique (ART)
    • HIV hides in the body's reservoir cells and can remain dormant as long as a patient receives antiretroviral therapy.
    • When a patient discontinues ARTs, a reservoir virus awakens and begins replicating all over the body again.
    • The idea is to wake up every single virus and kill all of the activated cells, thereby destroying the reservoir all at once.
    • Scientists have discovered drugs that can wake up the silent reservoir cells.
    • The next challenge is to find a drug or method that can destroy infected cells while avoiding healthy cells.
    • There is always a risk that drugs will target healthy cells when destroying cells in the body, so this research moves cautiously to avoid unnecessary damage.
  5. Lock and block technique
    • This method aims to trap HIV in its reservoir cell, preventing it from being reactivated.
    • While the virus is still present in the body, it is trapped, unable to escape its host cell, and unable to replicate.
    • Scientists are currently testing drugs for their ability to effectively trap HIV in a host cell while not disrupting the genetic material of uninfected cells.
    • Ideally, a drug would lock HIV away and then deplete the reservoir, removing the virus' ability to resurface.

HIV patients can live at home and maintain a normal social life. Because the virus cannot be transmitted through casual (nonsexual) household contact, family members, roommates, and visitors are not at risk of becoming infected.

Being infected with HIV is a life-changing event, but it does not have to be the end of one's life. If you get the right treatment and take care of yourself, you can expect to live a healthy and productive life.

SLIDESHOW

A Timeline of the HIV/AIDS Pandemic See Slideshow

What is HIV?

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) weakens the body's immune system.

  • Your immune system protects your body from illness and infection and is essential for good health.
  • HIV attacks lymphocytes or T-cells, which are important white blood cells (WBCs) in your immune system.
  • T-cells detect and eliminate invading organisms in the body and eliminate cancerous cells. HIV multiplies and destroys the T-cells.
  • When your body loses a sufficient number of T-cells, it can become very ill.
  • It contracts infections that a healthy person's immune system would normally be able to fight. Infections, such as colds, flu, and other viral, fungal, and many bacterial infections fall into this category.

Some people develop flu-like symptoms within two weeks of being exposed to HIV, such as:

Not everyone exhibits all the symptoms, and the virus may not be detectable in a test for several weeks.

Untreated HIV infection weakens the immune system and progresses to full-blown acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), with far more severe symptoms, including:

HIV is found in an infected person's body fluids, which include sperm, vaginal and anal fluids, blood, and breast milk. To contract HIV, one of these fluids from an infected person must enter your bloodstream.

HIV is most commonly transmitted via vaginal or anal sex without the use of a condom. Other ways to get HIV to include:

  • Injecting drugs with a contaminated needle, syringe, or other devices
  • Transmission from mothers to their children before, during, or after birth
  • Oral sex
  • Sharing of sex toys

HIV can affect anyone but certain factors may increase the risk, such as:

What are the different stages of HIV?

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is classified into four stages by the World Health Organization (WHO).

  1. Stage I (HIV infection): The cluster of differentiation 4 (CD4+) cell count (a type of T-cells) is at least 500 cells per microliter.
  2. Stage II (HIV infection): The CD4+ cell count is 350 to 499.
  3. Stage III (advanced HIV disease or AHD): The CD4+ cell count is 200 to 349.
  4. Stage IV (acquired immune deficiency syndrome or AIDS): The CD4+ cell count is less than 200 or the percent of CD4+ cells is less than 15 percent of all lymphocytes.

In general, the higher the CD4+ count, the less likely opportunistic diseases (diseases that occur in people with low immunity) are. The majority of people with untreated HIV experience a gradual decrease in the number of CD4+ cells.

Each person reacts differently to this decline. HIV causes deterioration of the immune system (immune deficiency), so the body is not able to fend off diseases and infections. 

AIDS is the term applied to the most advanced stages of HIV infection and is defined by the development of any of more than 20 opportunistic infections or HIV-related cancers.

More than 1.1 million people in the United States are infected with HIV, with an estimated 162,500 of them being unaware of their situation. While there are medications that can help prevent the transmission and spread of HIV, as well as its progression to AIDS, there is no vaccine or cure for the virus.

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Medically Reviewed on 12/23/2021
References
Image Source: iStock Images

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is HIV treatment? https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/livingwithhiv/treatment.html

University of Michigan Health System. HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) Infection. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hw151408

HIV.gov. Growing Older with HIV. https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/living-well-with-hiv/taking-care-of-yourself/aging-with-hiv

UNAIDS. HIV and AIDS - Basic facts. https://www.unaids.org/en/frequently-asked-questions-about-hiv-and-aids

World Health Organization. HIV/AIDS. https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/hiv-aids

Healthline. What Is Acute HIV Infection? https://www.healthline.com/health/acute-hiv-infection

Avert. Is there a cure for HIV and AIDS? https://www.avert.org/about-hiv-aids/cure