vary person to person. It’s important to remember that a person who is diagnosed as HIV-positive may live symptom-free and healthy for many years. Some people who are HIV-positive may not even take medication, although others take antiretroviral medications (ART) which help them remain symptom-free for long periods of time. HIV becomes AIDS once an individual’s immune system is seriously damaged. Again, the symptoms vary, but mostly are the result of conditions not normally seen in person’s with a healthy immune system. These conditions that are caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites are called “opportunistic infections” (O Is). These infections can affect every organ in the body. If a person contracts an opportunistic infection, they have AIDS, or if their CD4 percentage (also called T Cells) is less than 14%, or less than 200 CD4+ cells, they have AIDS. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a list of the most common of the opportunistic infections:
PCP pneumonia lung infection
KS (Kaposi’s sarcoma) skin cancer
CMV (Cytomegalovirus), an infection that usually affects the eyes
Fungal infections of the throat or vagina, Candida, a fungal infection that can cause thrush.
Other AIDS symptoms may include unexplained weight loss, various cancers such as cervical cancer and cancers of the immune system, fever, night sweats, swollen glands, chills, weakness.
AIDS treatment has greatly advanced in the past several years. Combination treatment for HIV can prolong the time between being infected with HIV and the onset of AIDS. It is possible for a person with HIV who is taking treatment to live out their entire life without developing AIDS. Improved treatment has also improved the length of life and quality of life for those already diagnosed with AIDS. Treatment will depend on the type of opportunistic infection is being treated and also where a person lives. Unfortunately, many countries are lacking in advanced medical equipment and medicines.
Treatment for HIV consists of “highly active antiretroviral therapy,” or HAART, which has been very beneficial for many patients since 1996 when it first became available. Currently, HAART options consists of “cocktails” (combinations) of at least three drugs belonging to two classes of antiretroviral drugs. Typical cocktails consist of two nucleoside analogue reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NARTIs or NRTIs) plus either a protease inhibitor or a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI). The goal of treatment is to reduce the HIV virus below the limit of detection, improve quality of life and reduce complications of disease. Treatment does not cure the patient of HIV or AIDS, nor does it prevent the return of it. It should be noted that the progression of HIV is more rapid in children than in adults, so treatment is more aggressive for them, as well.
The following is a list of some (but not all) of the drugs approved by the FDA for the treatment of HIV and AIDS.
Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTI) help slow the spread of HIV in the body:
Abacavir (Ziagen, ABC)
Didanosine (Videx, dideoxyinosine, ddI)
Emtricitabine (Emtriva, FTC)
Lamivudine (Epivir, 3TC)
Stavudine (Zerit, d4T)
Tenofovir (Viread, TDF)
Zalcitabine (Hivid, ddC)
Zidovudine (Retrovir, ZDV or AZT)
Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NNRTI)
Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors block infection of new cells by HIV.
Delvaridine (Rescriptor, DLV)
Efravirenz (Sustiva, EFV)
Nevirapine (Viramune, NVP)
This list was eviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center and last updated on Jaunary 24, 2011.
Protease Inhibitors (PI) drugs help interrupt the virus from replication:
Amprenavir (Agenerase, APV)
Atazanavir (Reyataz, ATV)
Fosamprenavir (Lexiva, FOS)
Indinavir (Crixivan, IDV)
Lopinavir (Kaletra, LPV/r)
Ritonavir (Norvir, RIT)
Saquinavir (Fortovase, Invirase, SQV)
Other medications to treat HIV include fusion inhibitors, a new class of drugs that prevent HIV from fusing with the inside of a cell, thus preventing it from replicating.
In some countries, including the United States, patients may also opt to use various forms of alternative or complementary treatments for HIV and AIDS. This may include herbal medicines, and/or vitamin and mineral supplementation. No scientific evidence has been established for the effectiveness of these types of therapies.