Earlier HIV Treatment Can Help Prevention

Earlier HIV Treatment Can Help Prevention

People tend to panic when they are first diagnosed with HIV. However, there is no need for that.

If there is any consolation, it is that HIV is not life-threatening, though it is a life-long disease. Current medication cannot cure it but can prevent transmission and prolong your life.

There is hope that in the nearest future, there will be a medication that can effectively cure the disease. But until then, it is essential that we know that HIV can progress to AIDS which is dangerous, and to prevent that, you have to do your test and take the prescribed medications early enough.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), is caused by the Human Immuno Virus (HIV). HIV is a retrovirus that attacks and compromises the integrity of the immune system. The virus attacks the body’s fighting cells known in clinical terms as CD4+ T cells. The status of the immune system is determined by the number of these cells – known as CD4+ count. When people get infected with HIV, the CD4+ count reduces drastically, resulting in the weakening of the immune system. And when the immune systems weakens, AIDS develops.

Why do I need early HIV treatment?

HIV is not a disease. It is a virus that leads to a disease. The virus attacks CD4 cells resulting in a weakening of the immune system. If treatment is not done on time, the virus will reproduce and multiply in the body. The sick feeling may not come initially, but then opportunistic infections will eventually show up leading to sickness and ultimately death.

Treatment of AIDS is done with antiretroviral drugs. These drugs combat and inhibit the activities of the human immune virus though it does not completely eliminate it from the body.

According to the World Health Organization, HIV treatment should start once it observed that the CD4+ cells or T-cell count has fallen below 500 cells/mm3. On the other hand, the US department of Health and Human Services recommends treatment at 350 cells/mm3.

A study titled START (Strategic Timing of Antiretroviral Treatment has proven with scientific evidence that AIDS can be prevented if treatment with antiretroviral medications starts early, of irrespective of the value of your CD4+ count. The risk of transmission is also drastically minimized with early treatment.

HIV patients are advised to carry out regular CD4 and Viral Load tests. CD4 tests informs you of the value of your CD4+ count while the viral load test lets you know how much viruses you have in your body. When you carry out these two tests regularly, you can effectively monitor your body’s HIV status. There was an initial state of confusion regarding when to start HIV treatment and what the benefits of an early treatment may be, but the START study has shown that if you take the antiretroviral drugs when your immune system have not yet been compromised, then you have increased your good health status by 50 percent.


START is an acronym for Strategic Timing of Anti-retroviral Treatment – a large-scale randomized clinical trial created provide solutions to puzzles concerning early treatment of HIV. The study is still ongoing but results obtained so far has shown that early treatment of HIV with antiretroviral drugs bestows great benefits on the patients. The study is carried out in 30 countries with 4000 HIV patients participating in it. Participants have a CD4+ count of 500 cells/mm3 and have never been treated with ARTs. A small number of patients selected randomly from the group received medication immediately while others only started their medication when their CD4+ count fell below 350 cells/mm3. Results show that the former group had better health status than the former.

Early HIV treatment is beneficial to those living with HIV – this has been agreed upon. You are able to stay early if you start the treatment on time. Why? Because early treatment suppresses the ability of the virus to replicate. So when you take your daily prescriptions, consult your physician daily, and maintain a minute viral load, then the treatment can:

  • Suppress the virus and allow your immune system to recover and build up itself – this benefit is quite significant if you start treatment early.
  • Transmission of the virus to your partner or unborn child can be prevented with early treatment.
  • The chances of transmitting the virus when sharing medical equipment is reduced.

It is recommended that patients who have tested positive should go for a confirmatory test. No known cure exists for HIV. It is therefore advisable that you stay safe from infection.

Written by Mark Riegel, MD

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