Treatment of HIV infection is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART is a combination of anti-HIV drugs (called a treatment regimen) that must be taken daily.
ART is recommended for all people with HIV infection. ART does not cure HIV, but anti-HIV drugs help people with HIV live longer and healthier lives. ART also reduces the risk of HIV transmission.
HIV attacks and destroys the CD4 cells in the immune system that fight infection. The loss of CD4 cells makes it harder for the body to fight HIV-related infections and certain cancers.
Anti-HIV drugs stop the virus from reproducing (replicating), which reduces the concentration of HIV in the body (called the viral load). With less HIV in the body, the immune system has a better chance of recovering and producing more CD4 cells. Even if there is still some HIV in the body, the immune system is strong enough to fight HIV-related infections and certain cancers.
How to mutate the AIDS virus?
Once a person acquires HIV, the virus begins to reproduce (multiply) in the body. As the virus multiplies, it sometimes changes shape (mutates). Some mutations of the virus that appear while a person is taking anti-HIV drugs can lead to drug-resistant virus.
What body system does AIDS attack?
HIV damages the immune system by infecting and killing CD4 cells (T-helper lymphocytes), a type of white blood cell.
AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and defines the series of symptoms and infections that are associated with acquired immune system deficiency. HIV infection is considered the underlying cause of AIDS. The level of immunodeficiency and the occurrence of certain infections are used as indicators of whether HIV infection has progressed and caused AIDS (see question 4).
HIV infection causes progressive depletion and weakening of the immune system. This leads to increased susceptibility of the body to infections and cancers and can lead to the development of AIDS (see questions 2 and 4).
AIDS is identified on the basis of certain infections. Stage I HIV disease is asymptomatic and is not considered AIDS. Stage II (includes mild candidiasis and frequent upper respiratory tract infections), stage III (includes chronic unexplained diarrhea persisting for more than one month, various bacterial infections and pulmonary tuberculosis) and stage IV HIV disease (includes cerebral toxoplasmosis, candidiasis of the esophagus, trachea or lungs and Kaposi’s sarcoma) are used as indicators of AIDS. Most of these conditions are easily treatable opportunistic infections in healthy individuals.
Talk to your healthcare provider if your treatment makes you feel sick. Your health care provider may prescribe medications to help manage side effects or change your treatment plan. Will my HIV treatment interfere with my hormone therapy?
It’s hard to stick to my treatment plan. How can I handle the challenges? If you have difficulty following your plan, tell your health care provider right away. Together, you can identify the reasons why you are skipping doses and make a plan to address those reasons.
In twelve countries, mainly in Central America and Africa, more than 10% of people on HIV treatment have drug-resistant virus. And in the other countries where the World Health Organization (WHO) has analyzed the phenomenon, the growth of resistance is exponential. This situation jeopardizes the objective of blocking the spread of the infection, because the emergence of resistance means that there is a selection of mutations that escape the drugs and these will be the ones that spread. A 10% of resistant cases is a red line: you cannot continue to give that medication to the rest of the population because it would increase the risk.
Experts from all over the world are trying to understand how this resistance occurs. On the one hand, it is in its nature to continually mutate in order to try to survive, which is why it is attacked with several drugs at the same time, in order to act in several ways and to get rid of HIV as soon as possible so that it does not have time to change.