HIV is a threatening disease. However, it is also treatable. If left untreated, it can progress to AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.
The HIV virus slowly damages your immune system as the virus duplicates itself and attaches to immune cells. If the virus is left untreated, the immune system becomes weakened, allowing serious infections and cancers to enter the body. These complications can bring on AIDS. Although there is no cure for HIV, there are several medications that help patients to manage and control the infection.
Common Symptoms of HIV –
While you should not rely on symptoms to determine if you have HIV, about 40-90% of people have “flu-like” symptoms. Other people have no symptoms at all. If you believe you may have contracted HIV, it is important to be tested. Here are other common symptoms of HIV:
- Mouth ulcers
- Night sweats
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Muscle aches
What does the treatment of HIV involve?
HIV treatment includes the usage of drugs named antiretrovirals (ARV). Your care provider at your primary care clinic for adults will usually combine three of these medications to hinder the infection. This combination therapy is called highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). This treatment plan reduces the complications spawned from HIV as well as minimizes the possibility of transforming the HIV virus to a drug-resistant strain.
What are the treatment medications?
The HIV cocktail-therapy combines three medicines from two of the following types of antiretrovirals.
Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs) stop the HIV protein known as reverse transcriptase. The virus relies on this protein to attach its genetic material to the patient’s material and replicate itself. Examples include efavirenz (Sustiva) and rilpivirine (Edurant).
Nucleoside or nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) are defective building blocks utilized by HIV to make duplicates of itself. Examples include combination regimens like lamivudine-zidovudine (Combivir) and emtricitabine/tenofovir (Truvada). Your doctor will use two NRTIs with a third drug from any of the other listed classes.
Protease inhibitors (PIs) hinder the HIV virus protein known as protease, also necessary for HIV to copy itself. An example is a treatment medication called indinavir (Crixivan).
Fusion inhibitors prevent HIV’s entry into your immune system. An example is a medicine known as enfuvirtide (Fuzeon).
Integrase inhibitors stop the protein named integrase that HIV utilizes to attach to its genetic code into the patient’s immune cells.
Knowing which drug-cocktail is best for you
A care team or an HIV treatment center near you will determine the best HIV drug-cocktail for you based on multiple factors.
These factors include the number of pills prescribed daily (also called a pill burden), viral levels in the body of the patient, the possibility that one of the drugs will interact with another drug, other existing health problems, and potential side effects of the medicines.
How soon should you start treatment?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — the agency that determines health-related guidelines for the Americans — advises patients to begin the HIV therapy immediately after diagnosis.
Is treatment necessary for all patients?
Yes, it is very important to get HIV treatment. Patients can have HIV and not have any symptoms of the virus. However, the longer patients postpone treatment, the probability of developing AIDS increases. Not seeking treatment also puts you at risk of developing other illness that tends to come with age, known as non-AIDS related ailments.
However, prompt HIV treatment decreases the chance that the virus will reproduce. It also offers other health benefits. These include stopping any more damage to immunity cells, decreasing the risk for HIV complications, decreasing the risk of developing AIDS, prevent non-AIDS related ailments (including cardiovascular diseases, kidney problems, and liver and brain disorders), and lessening the probability of spreading HIV to others by decreasing the levels of virus in blood.
How to get treatment
Most health insurance should cover treatment of HIV/AIDS. However, if your insurance plan does not cover HIV treatment, then it is advisable to consider altering your plan.
If you do not have insurance, then you can find centers for care and treatment for HIV across the United States, including Kentucky rendered by the Ryan White Program medical providers. The Ryan White Program is for people with HIV/AIDS who do not have health insurance or cannot afford the medical services.
Is the treatment working?
Monitoring of the levels of virus (viral load) and immune cells in blood will determine a patient’s response to HIV treatment. If the HIV drug-cocktail is effective, then it will be able to decrease the viral load to undetected levels. This does not indicate that HIV has been cured. Rather, it indicates that the viral levels in the blood have become low enough to be undetected during blood testing.
HIV targets the immune system. A declining immune cell count signifies that HIV treatment is not working for the patient. However, a stable count means that the therapy is effective.
What is the biggest obstacle faced during treatment?
Sticking to a steady treatment plan can prove to be a big issue for some patients. A busy schedule can increase the chances that a patient forgets to take a dosage of the prescribed treatment plan. Some patients may also try to avoid unwanted side effects from the HIV pills (such as nausea and vomiting).
Lastly, it is important to never skip medicines, even occasionally. Skipping doses can allow the virus to multiply or mutate.
For more information
HIV is a serious condition. For more information on HIV, its symptoms, or treatment, contact KentuckyCare today at (866) 810-7602 to speak with a healthcare professional.