HIV Treatment and Prevention
If you have tested positive for HIV, you will need to discuss with your doctor whether starting treatment right away is best for you. Some people with HIV choose to wait, while others are advised to start immediately. The decision to start is usually based on the state of your immune system; those with healthy immune systems may be able to postpone treatment. If your infection has progressed to full blown AIDS, your treatment options will still be the same as HIV treatments. Presently, HIV and AIDS do not have a cure.
For the most part, HIV treatment consists of HIV medications that work to slow down the copying process of the HIV virus. There are three different groups of antiretroviral drugs that work in this fashion:
- Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors
- Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors
- Protease Inhibitors
A fourth category of HIV medication has also recently been established. Known as fusion inhibitors, these drugs work by preventing the virus itself from going into the T4 cells and inhibiting the virus’ ability to fuse with the cell membranes. Currently, only one drug in this category has been approved for use. It is recommended that fusion inhibitors be used with another type of treatment.
Discuss with your health care provider which of these groups of drugs would be best for you.
Medications for hiv and aids are extremely potent. As a result, they can cause numerous unwanted side effects, including:
In some cases, though, the side effects can be so severe that they may significantly hinder your ability to function. In very rare cases, they can be so extreme that they require hospitalization or may even be life threatening.
As your body adjusts to the drugs, however, these side effects should begin to subside. If they don’t, or they are so severe that you find it hard to continue with your treatment, you may want to discuss the issue with your doctor. Currently, researchers are working to develop new, more effective drugs that produce fewer side effects.
Regimes and Resistance
One reason why people may put off starting treatment for HIV is because once you start, you must continue with the treatment for the rest of your life. Additionally, antiretroviral drugs must be taken at the same time everyday anywhere from once to three times a day in order to be most effective. By committing to a treatment regime, you minimize the chances of the virus being able to reproduce itself.
Additionally, once treatment is started, it will still be necessary to regularly check your viral load. This is done to ensure that your T4 cell count is increasing. If it does not increase, or if your viral loads begins to increase after a period of decline, it suggests that your drug regime is not as effective as it should be or that the virus has become resistant to your treatment. Either way, changing your medications may be necessary.
The HIV virus can become resistant to medications, particularly if you do not follow your drug regime properly. Since the virus makes copies of itself in your system, it can mutate during the process. Sometimes this mutation can occur in the area of DNA that the antiretroviral drugs target. As a result, the virus is no longer hindered by your medications and is able to duplicate itself without interruption. HIV can become resistant to certain drugs or to an entire group of drugs. It is also possible to be infected with an HIV strain that is already resistant to particular drugs or drug groups.
Because there is no cure for HIV or AIDS, your best weapon at beating these STDs is to avoid them altogether. You can reduce your risk of infection by taking these precautionary measures:
- Abstain from sex
- If you are sexually active, always use a condom when engaging in vaginal, anal or oral sex, even if both you and your partner are infected with HIV (it may be possible to be re-infected with a different strain of the virus). Condoms will also help protect against other STDs, such as hepatitis B and herpes.
- Intravenous drug users should never share or reuse needles
- Make sure that needles used for tattoos or piercing have been sterilised and/or are disposable
- If you are giving blood, make sure that the needles used are new and sterile
- If you are receiving blood, ensure that the blood has been screened for HIV
People who work in health care settings may also be at risk and should follow these steps to minimize their chances of infection:
- If you are coming into contact with bodily fluids, including blood, ensure that you use a protective barrier, such as latex gloves
- Always use proper hand washing techniques before and after a procedure
- Whenever possible, use single-use disposable needles and syringes when performing an injection, taking the time to safely dispose of the needle immediately after use
- If the equipment you are using is not disposable, disinfect it immediately after use
HIV During Pregnancy
If you are pregnant and HIV positive, you will likely be worried about the risk of passing on the infection to your unborn child. While it is possible to pass the virus onto your child, either during birth or through breast milk, measures can be taken to reduce this risk.