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Step 5: Effective Drug Treatment

Over the course of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, effective medications have been developed that prevent or greatly delay the onset of AIDS for HIV-positive people. These combinations of medications are called antiretroviral therapy (ART). Though these medications are not able to eliminate the virus or cure an HIV-positive person, they work by controlling the virus so that there are very low levels of virus in the body. An HIV-positive individual can live a long, healthy life if they can access and adhere to an ART drug regimen.

Since the HIV virus attacks immune system cells called CD4 cells, the number of CD4 cells a person has is an important clinical indicator that can show how well treatment is working. Historically, the CDC had made recommendations that only people with certain low levels of CD4 cells should be given ART drug regimens. However, the current clinical recommendation is that all people living with HIV, regardless of the count of their CD4 cells, should start ART as soon as they are diagnosed. According to the CDC, as of 2011, about 37% of people in the U.S. infected with HIV were prescribed antiretroviral therapy.

Resources to Learn More

Consolidated Guidelines on the Use of Antiretroviral Drugs for Treating and Preventing HIV Infection: Recommendations for a Public Health Approach
Document
Consolidated guidelines focused on the use of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs in the treatment and prevention of HIV infection, including information on HIV infection diagnosis and care. Does not address other types of interventions.
Organization(s): World Health Organizations
Date: 6/2013

HIV Treatment Overview
Website
This HIV.gov page provides a brief overview of HIV treatment, including a description of how HIV is treated, the various HIV drug classes, and how HIV drug regimens are chosen.
Organization(s): HIV.gov