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FAQ: When should you start antiretroviral therapy?

for Veterans and the Public

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: When should you start antiretroviral therapy?

The short answer (for almost everyone) is — now!

Treating HIV with antiretroviral medications can have huge benefits for you as an individual, and for anyone who is at risk of being infected with HIV (like a sex partner). HIV therapy helps to:

  • reduce the amount of HIV in your body
  • strengthen your immune system
  • prevent illness
  • help you live longer
  • prevent transmission (passing the virus) to your sex or drug-using partner(s) or during pregnancy and childbirth

The sooner you start, the sooner you will get these benefits.

Many studies have shown that starting HIV treatment early in the course of the infection lowers the risk of a variety of illnesses related to the effects of HIV. In other words, HIV medications can help people stay healthier if they start the meds when their CD4 (or "T cell") counts are higher. Also, we have strong proof that effective HIV therapy dramatically reduces the chance of HIV passing from an HIV-positive person to an HIV-negative sex partner. And most of the HIV medications we currently use are highly effective and easy to take.

While there may be some individuals in whom it is best to delay treatment temporarily, current guidelines recommend starting therapy for ALL persons with HIV infection, as long as they are willing and able to take the medications. Some HIV experts recommend starting treatment as soon as possible, potentially even on the same day people receive their HIV test results.