Standard antiretroviral therapy (ART) includes the combination of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to suppress the HIV virus and stop the progression of the infection.
Doctors recommend beginning ART immediately after being diagnosed with HIV, without any restrictions on the immune system cell (CD4) count.
ART is not a cure but a preventive measure
ART causes the HIV load to decline, helping the immune system to heal, which gives HIV-positives a chance for a long, healthy life.
As a result, it significantly decreases the transmission rate, making it less likely the infection would be passed on.
It also reduces the occurrence of opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis, pneumonia or certain types of cancers.
Moreover, ART not only saves individual lives, it lowers the collective viral load in the community, significantly reducing the rate of HIV transmission.
ART is highly recommended for all those with HIV, regardless of how long ago they were diagnosed and their current health condition. If left untreated, HIV will attack the immune system and eventually progress to AIDS.
The main types of antiretroviral medications used for HIV treatment include:
- Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs), such as zidovudine (Retrovir), abacavir (Ziagen), and emtricitabine (Emtriva), block one of the enzymes that HIV needs to replicate itself in a cell.
- Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs), such as efavirenz (Sustiva), etravirine (Intelence) and nevirapine (Viramune), target the same enzyme as NRTIs, but with a different chemical structure.
- Protease inhibitors (PIs), such as atazanavir (Reyataz), ritonavir (Norvir) and tipranavir (Aptivus), stop the production of one component of HIV.
- Entry inhibitors block the entry of HIV into CD4 cells. This type of drug includes two sub-divisions: CCR5 antagonists, such as maraviroc (Selzentry), which block CCR5, a receptor protein on the surface of CD4 cells that the virus binds to in order to enter the cell.
The second is fusion inhibitors, such as enfuvirtide (Fuzeon), which also block the virus’s ability to enter CD4 cells.
Integrase inhibitors, such as dolutegravir (Tivicay), elvitegravir (Vitekta) and raltegravir (Isentress), block HIV from inserting its viral DNA into host cells.
ARV reduces the viral load, or the amount of virus in your bloodstream. Those with an undetectable viral load remain healthier longer and are less likely to transmit the HIV infection to others.
This article first appeared on Hello Doktor and was medically reviewed by the Hello Doktor Medical Panel. The Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.