Forget what you've heard about treatment for HIV. HIV treatment today is a world away from what it was even two years ago. There are more options than ever before, many of which involve fewer pills, fewer doses, and fewer side effects than medications from the early days of the epidemic.
There is now a wide range of HIV medications available to people in the United States that fall into six different categories according to the method by which they interfere with HIV reproducing itself in the body. The range of medications is important, because to be effective the drugs must be taken in combination with others in order to attack the virus from many different points in the replication process. This is often called, “combination therapy,” on an HIV “regimen.” Although no singular regimen can cure HIV, they are able, by and large, to prevent further damage to your body once you start taking them. The most important thing about therapy is “adherence,” or taking your medications everyday as they’re prescribed. Missing doses can lead to the virus finding ways around your drugs and developing resistance. The better your treatment adherence, the better your chances for living a long and healthy life on treatment.
The two key markers that are used to gauge how well the meds are working are viral load (a measure of how much virus is in your blood stream) and T-cell count (a measure of the health of your immune system). The goal is to have an undetectable viral load and a high T-cell count. The San Francisco Department of Public Health now recommends that people start taking HIV medications as soon as they find out they are infected.
As soon as you test positive, the first thing to do is find the most experienced HIV specialist you can. Generally, you should visit your doctor for a checkup every three months to find out if and how the HIV in your body is progressing.
In addition to determining your T-cell count and viral load, your doctor should also conduct resistance tests to determine which medications will work best for you given the particular variation of the virus in your body and what meds it is resistant to. Then you and your doctor will have a clear picture of how HIV has progressed in your body and what medications you should start taking.
The best way to fight HIV is to know your status. A simple test can determine if you are infected with the virus.
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