HIV/AIDS

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How is HIV treated?

How is HIV treated?

There are many treatments now that can help people with HIV. As a result, many people with HIV are living much longer and healthier lives than before.

Currently, medicines can slow the growth of the virus or stop it from making copies of itself. Although these drugs don't eliminate the virus from the body, they keep the amount of virus in the blood low. The amount of virus in the blood is called the viral load, and it can be measured by a test.

The lower the viral load, the longer a person can stay healthy and fight off infections.

There are several types of anti-HIV drugs. Each type attacks the virus in its own way. It's similar to the way the military plans an attack using the different strengths of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.

Pop question: True or false. The lower your viral load, the better.

Answer: TRUE. The lower your viral load, the better. The main goal of HIV drugs is to reduce viral load as much as possible for as long as possible.

How are the drugs taken?

Most people who are getting treated for HIV take 3 or more drugs. This is called combination therapy or "the cocktail." (It also has a longer name: Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) or Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART.) Combination therapy is the most effective treatment for HIV.

People who are HIV positive need to work closely with their doctors to decide when to start treatment and which drugs to take.

Is it hard to take these drugs?

HIV medicines have become much easier to take in recent years. Some newer drug combinations package 3 separate medicines into only 1 or 2 pills, taken once a day, with minimal side effects. Still, taking medicine for HIV can be complicated. Some of the drugs are difficult to take, can cause serious side effects, and don't work for everyone. Even when a drug does help a particular person, it may become less effective over time or stop working altogether. On the other hand, the drugs help keep HIV under control, and let people infected with HIV live longer and healthier lives.

Once on medications, patients must work with their health care providers to monitor how well the drugs are working, deal with side effects, and decide what to do if the drugs stop working.

The good news is that experts are learning more about the virus and creating new treatments for HIV, making it easier to take these medicines.

Do you have to be treated for the rest of your life?

Right now, there is no cure for HIV infection or AIDS. So, once you start treatment, you have to continue to be sure the virus doesn't multiply out of control.

Pop question: True or false. The most effective treatment for HIV is combination therapy.

Answer: TRUE. The most effective treatment for HIV is combination therapy. Different anti-HIV drugs attack the virus in different ways, so combining 3 or more drugs is the best way to fight the virus.