The HIV virus has no known cure as yet, despite huge investment into research. For information about the symptoms of HIV, click here.
HIV Treatment Options
For people diagnosed with HIV there are several treatment options. While there is no cure for the disease, there are treatments that allow most people living with HIV, a long and healthy life.
Emergency HIV Treatment
If you are exposed to the HIV virus there is a 72 hour window within which you can receive anti-HIV medication, which may stop you becoming infected. The medication is called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). It must be administered within 72 hours of coming into contact with the virus. The sooner the treatment is started, the more likely it is to be effective.
PEP involves a month of treatment. It has serious side effects and it is not guaranteed to work. It is possible to receive PEP from sexual health clinics, genitourinary (GUM) clinics and A&E departments of hospitals.
Treatment If You Test Positive For HIV
If you are tested positive for HIV you will have blood tests on a regular basis to monitor the progress of the virus before treatment begins. Treatment will begin once the virus has started weakening your immune system. The blood tests will monitor the levels of CD4 in your blood. These are the cells that fight infection. When the CD4 count of your blood falls beneath 350, treatment will begin.
If you are receiving HIV treatment the level of the virus in your blood is usually very low, so it is unlikely that you will pass HIV on to someone else.
Antiretroviral Drugs (ARVs)
HIV is treated with antiretroviral (ARVs), which work by slowing the spread of the HIV virus in the body. A mixture of the ARVs is used because the HIV virus adapts very quickly and soon become resistant to one single ARV. Generally, patients take three or more different types of ARV medication. This is referred to as combination therapy or antiretroviral therapy (ART). For each individual a different combination of ARVs will be required, so your medication is likely to be specific to you.
Once you begin HIV treatment it is likely you will take the medication for the rest of your life. For treatment to be effective it is essential it is taken at the same time every day. If a dose is missed it dramatically increases the chance of the treatment not working. It is advisable to develop a daily routine in order to fit your treatment plan into your life.
HIV Treatment Side Effects
Common HIV treatment side effects include nausea, tiredness, diarrhoea, skin rashes, mood changes, gaining fat on one part of your body, while losing it on another. Be conscious that many of the medicines used to treat HIV are known to react in unpredictable ways if taken with other types of medication, so always consult your doctor if you are uncertain about whether you are able to take any other medications.