9 Facts About Current HIV Treatment
Medically reviewed by C. Fookes, BPharm. Last updated on Mar 20, 2018.
1. Nearly 40,000 people still get HIV every year in the US
Although the number of new cases of HIV declined by 5% from 2011 to 2015, there were still 39,782 people diagnosed with HIV in 2016.
Targeted HIV prevention efforts may explain the decrease; however, there does appear to be a true decline in infections. Gay and bisexual men account for 67% of all HIV diagnoses and 83% of diagnoses among males. Nearly 40% of gay and bisexual men diagnosed with HIV were African American and nearly 30% were Hispanic/Latino.
Unprotected sex is still the most common way to get HIV, followed by sharing injection drug equipment. But it is easy to protect against HIV. Use condoms correctly every time you have sex. Don’t inject drugs. If you do, use only clean needles and equipment and don’t share your equipment with others. Ask your doctor about taking Truvada to further reduce your risk of getting HIV.1, 2
2. HIV doesn’t have to be a terminal illness
Thirty-five years ago the world was just becoming aware of a new syndrome experts called the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome AIDS or AIDS. They had no idea what caused it, how it spread or what to treat it with. People diagnosed with HIV in the early 1980’s were lucky to survive 8 years.
But 30 years of dedicated research brings results. There are dozens of different drugs available now to treat the HIV virus. If these drugs are started early, taken exactly as recommended by a doctor, and give good viral suppression, then the chances of developing AIDS are dramatically reduced.
In fact, people with HIV are likely to have a lifespan generally the same as uninfected people and are more likely to die of other causes, such as heart conditions or cancer. 3,4
3. Strict adherence to HIV treatment is key
The treatment of HIV is different to the treatment of other chronic diseases, like diabetes and hypertension. For these diseases, drug regimens remain effective even after treatment is resumed following a period of interruption.
Not so for HIV. Forgetting or choosing not to take your HIV medication may lead to the emergence of drug resistance which is a major cause of treatment failure.
Consistently taking your medicine each day and every day will increase your chances of living a long and healthy life free from AIDS. 4
4. Truvada reduces the risk of injection drug users and uninfected partners acquiring HIV by up to 92%
Truvada is recommended by the FDA for reducing the risk of acquiring HIV sexually, or via injection drug use, in both men and women (Pre-exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP).
Truvada contains a fixed combination of tenofovir and emtricitabine and must be taken daily. It works to keep the virus from establishing a permanent infection and should be used with other prevention methods (such as condoms).
It is much less effective when not taken consistently.5 Truvada is also used as an HIV treatment along with other medicines.
5. HIV medicines prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV
It is important pregnant women with HIV continue to take their HIV medication as prescribed by their doctor.
Most HIV medicines are safe to use during pregnancy. HIV medicines slow down the growth and multiplication of the HIV virus in the body. Having less HIV in the body lowers a woman's chance of passing the HIV virus to her child during pregnancy and childbirth, and helps to keep the woman healthy, too. Babies born to women with HIV also receive HIV medicine for 4 to 6 weeks after birth. The HIV medicine reduces the risk of infection from any HIV that may have entered a baby’s body during childbirth.6,7
6. Condoms should still be used during pregnancy
Condoms not only protect against pregnancy, they also protect against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
Women who are pregnant are at higher risk of getting HIV than women who are not pregnant. This means that your unborn baby is also at a very high risk of acquiring the disease. So it’s important to still use condoms when you are pregnant, and if your partner has HIV, ask your doctor about taking Truvada which offers further protection for you and your baby. 6
7. Know that if one regimen doesn’t suit, there are other options
There are many different types of medicines used in various combinations to treat HIV. Newer HIV drugs have far fewer side effects than older HIV drugs, and experts have named a few “recommended regimens” based on how effective a drug is, how many side effects it has and how often it needs to be administered (ie, once daily administration versus multiple daily administration).
If you are new to HIV treatment, your doctor will probably start you on one of these recommended regimens. But know that there are alternatives which your doctor can discuss with you if you find that particular regimen hard to tolerate. 4
In March 2018, Trogarzo (ibalizumab-uiyk) was approved by the FDA. This is a welcome addition for people who have multidrug-resistant HIV and who have run out of other treatment options. Trogarzo is given once every 14 days by injection in addition to other antiretroviral drugs.
8. Generic formulations may save you money
The most important thing you can do if you have HIV is to take your medication every day. However, for some people, the high cost of HIV treatment gets in the way, particularly if their insurance does not cover the full amount of the drug, or if they have no insurance.
Generic versions of HIV drugs can be up to 30% cheaper than the branded version. Sometimes this may mean taking a few more pills each day, generics of all products may not be available, but it may be worth it. Just be sure to take your medicine without fail.
Talk to your doctor about the cost of your regimen, and if there are any cheaper alternatives. 4
9. Living with HIV doesn’t mean a lifetime of monitoring
If you have HIV, you learn to live with it, but having to go for regular blood tests can get in the way of leading your life.
Experts now agree that if you have been taking your HIV combination treatment for at least 2 years, with consistent viral suppression, and your CD4 counts are >500 cells/mm3 then monitoring is optional. If your CD4 count remains between 300 and 500 cells/mm3 then regular monitoring every 12 months is still recommended. 4
- AIDS and HIV Overview
- AIDS Complications and Treatments
- HIV / AIDS Symptoms and Complications
- HIV and AIDS Treatment: Drugs and Classes
- HIV Prevention
- National HIV Testing Day
- HIV in the United States: At a Glance, Aids.gov - http://www.aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/hiv-aids-101/statistics/
- The Basics of HIV Prevention, Aids Info NIH - http://aidsinfo.nih.gov/education-materials/fact-sheets/20/48/the-basics-of-hiv-prevention
- A timeline of HIV/AIDS, Aids.gov - http://www.aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/hiv-aids-101/aids-timeline/
- Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in HIV-1-Infected Adults and Adolescents, Aids Info NIH - http://aidsinfo.nih.gov/contentfiles/lvguidelines/AdultandAdolescentGL.pdf
- Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/prevention/research/prep/
- Recommendations for Use of Antiretroviral Drugs in Pregnant HIV-1-Infected Women for Maternal Health and Interventions to Reduce Perinatal HIV Transmission in the United States, Aids Info NIH - https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/guidelines/html/3/perinatal-guidelines/487/table-6---what-to-start--initial-combination-regimens-for-antiretroviral-naive-pregnant-women
- Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV. AIDSInfo.com https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/education-materials/fact-sheets/20/50/preventing-mother-to-child-transmission-of-hiv
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