HIV is treated with a combination of drugs called 'antiretrovirals', also known as antiretroviral therapy (ART). These drugs work to stop the virus from making copies of itself (multiplying) and so reducing the amount of HIV in the body. Reducing the HIV in your body enables your immune system to recover, giving it a greater chance of fighting off, and recovering from, infections and other illnesses.
Undectable=Untransmittable | Prevention Access
NAM endorses Undetectable equals Untransmittable (U=U) consensus statement | NAM aidsmap
How HIV treatment works | Body and Soul | 18 Jan 2013 | 3m 30
Understanding CD4 counts and viral loads
Whether you have been recently diagnosed yourself, or if you know somebody living with HIV, understanding even a little bit about CD4 counts and viral loads is worth knowing. For example, you might hear someone say "I'm undetectable and my CD4 count is 781" but what does it mean?
A CD4 count is a blood test that measures CD4 T lymphocytes (CD4 cells) in 1 cubic millimetre of blood. It shows the 'strength' of your immune system function to fight off infections. Normal CD4 counts range from 500 to 1,500 cells. A CD4 count of less than 200 is one of the ways to determine if a person with HIV has progressed to AIDS. This doesn't mean a person is near death, but rather that their immune system is so badly damaged that they would have great difficulty fighting off an infection if one were to come along.
A viral load blood test measures the number of active HIV virus copies (or particles) there are in 1 millilitre of blood. For example, a person not on HIV treatment may have a viral load of several million. A higher viral load means a person will be more infectious to others; eg: through unprotected fucking. The goal of HIV treatment is to bring your viral load down to undetectable levels which is usually regarded as less than 100.
We are oversimplifying but as crude example: A person with HIV infection and not on HIV medication might have (when tested) a viral load of 1,000,000+ and a CD4 of 370. Once on HIV treatment (eg: 3-6 months later) that person would be looking good if the viral load was less than 100, and the CD4 count was 500.
Effective HIV treatment is about keeping your CD4 count high and your viral load low or undetectable. We should also add that CD4 counts and viral loads can go up and down depending on how well your HIV medication is working, whether you've another STI, and your health generally. This is not unusual.
The clinic doctors specialising in HIV are very experienced in both telling you what you need to know, and answering your questions and concerns.
Viral Load and Monitoring | Animated HIV Science | 7Nov 2013 | 4m37s
Take your meds!
Today’s HIV treatments are extremely effective, enabling in the majority of cases a normal life expectancy; particularly if you are diagnosed early (the point of infection). Being on ART also reduces the risk of transmitting HIV to others.
You will need to take your HIV tablets as prescribed, which in most cases is one daily dose, to ensure you have enough medication in your body to keep the HIV in check. So, no messing around and missing doses!
Some people do experience side-effects, which can vary between treatments and individuals, although after a few weeks most usually subside or if they don't can be alleviated by medication. There is still no cure but for most people HIV is now a 'chronic condition', a serious but manageable illness that you will live with for the rest of your life.
Adherence and why it is so important | i-base
Why taking your HIV treatment properly is so important | NAM Aidsmap
HIV Drug Interactions from the University of Liverpool. provides a clinically useful, reliable, comprehensive, up-to-date, evidence-based drug-drug interaction resource, freely available to healthcare workers, patients and researchers. The HIV iChart app gives easy access to our drug interaction information on mobile devices.
HIV Drug Interaction Checker | University of Liverpool
Finding out more
NAM works to change lives by sharing information about HIV and AIDS. It produces useful information that you can trust, and makes sure it is there for anyone who needs it. It believes that having independent, clear and accurate information is vital in the fight against HIV and AIDS. It enables individuals and communities affected by HIV to protect themselves, care for others, advocate for better services and challenge stigma and discrimination.
Acorn House, 314-320 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8DP
020 7837 6988 9.30am - 5.30pm, Mon-Friday
Formed in 2000, HIV i-Base is a treatment activist group providing timely and up to date information about HIV treatment to HIV positive people and to health care professionals. All resources are produced by and with the involvement of HIV positive people and are reviewed by a medical advisory group.
4th Floor, 57 Great Suffolk Street, London SE1 0BB.
0808 800 6013 | Mon-Wed 12-4pm
Set up in 2002, The UK-CAB is a network for community HIV treatment advocates across the UK. Among its aims: to develop and strengthen a network of treatment advocates, provide expert training on current treatment issues and develop community representation in clinical trials, and setting the standard of care open to HIV positive people and community advocates.
c/o HIV i-Base, 4th Floor, 57 Great Suffolk Street, London SE1 0BB
020 7407 8488