The medical community continues to look for better treatments for HIV and AIDS, but at this time, there is no cure. But there are treatments that can slow the disease and help keep symptoms under control.
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, which is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV works by invading CD4 cells in the immune system. The virus takes over the genetic material in the CD4 cell and forces it to create more HIV which is then released into the bloodstream where it attacks more CD4 cells and continues to replicate.
CD4 cells that have been taken over by HIV lose their ability to function in the immune system. This makes the body more susceptible to other infections and diseases. When symptoms become very severe, or when an HIV-positive person becomes infected with certain “AIDS-defining” conditions, it means the HIV has progressed to AIDS.
Treatments for HIV generally involve a combination of drugs that are used to control the replication and spread of the HIV virus. There are several classes of anti-HIV drugs that each fight the virus in a different way. Some of the drug types are:
• NRTI (nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors) – These drugs help prevent the virus from duplicating itself, which slows the spread of HIV in the body.
• PI (protease inhibitors) – These drugs also interrupt the process of the virus duplicating itself, but they act later in the process than NRTIs.
• Fusion inhibitors – These drugs help prevent HIV from fusing with the inside of another cell, which prevents it from replicating.
• NNRTI (non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors) – These drugs block new cells from being infected by HIV. Because HIV cannot replicate without the help of genetic material from other cells, NNRTIs help prevent the virus from reproducing.
Research has shown that the most effective HIV/AIDS treatment includes at least three different types of anti-HIV drugs. HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy) was developed in 1996 as the anti-HIV “cocktail" which consists of a combination of three or more drugs.