9 Facts About Current HIV Treatment

1. 50,000 people still get HIV each year in the US

Although less people now die as a result of AIDS, the overall incidence of new cases of HIV has remained stable over the past 5 years.

However; in some groups, notably young African American men, the incidence has dramatically increased and now this population group account for almost 50% of all new HIV infections each year.

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. 3, 4

2. HIV doesn’t have to be a life sentence

Thirty 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 with 30 years of dedicated research comes 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 life-span generally the same as uninfected people, and are more likely to die of other causes, such as heart conditions or cancer. 1, 2

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. 2

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. 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

5. Under study: drugs may help prevent the transmission of HIV to unborn babies

With preconception planning and expert advice it is possible for couples, where one partner is infected with HIV, to have a child who is HIV-free. HIV-infected individuals should always be on a combination anti-HIV regimen with maximal viral suppression before attempting conception.The safest way is with artificial insemination, using donor sperm if the male is the person with HIV. However, trials are underway investigating the effectiveness of Truvada at preventing transmission of HIV to the fetus. This could allow natural conception to occur. Early results are promising. 6

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 at least 2 dozen different types of medicines used in various combinations to treat HIV. Newer HIV drugs have far less 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, then 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. 2

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 as companies are not allowed to make a generic version of a co-formulated drug.

Talk to your doctor about the cost of your regimen, and if there are any cheaper alternatives. 2

9. Living with HIV doesn’t mean a life-time 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. 2