Medical science was once powerless in the face of HIV and AIDS. Luckily, that is no longer the case. Drugs can prevent the replication of HIV in the body. The virus can then do very little harm to the body. But HIV cannot be completely eliminated from the body. A cure, therefore, is not yet possible.
Thanks to modern HIV therapy, most people can live a long time with the virus. The life expectancy is almost normal. To achieve this, it's important to begin therapy at the right time. HIV drugs must be taken regularly and on a lifelong basis.
The medications can cause side effects, which can differ greatly from person to person. Most people cope well with their medication. Some, however, suffer from severe side effects.
Today, thanks to HIV treatment and care, fewer and fewer people in countries with good medical care become ill with AIDS.
Many people with HIV lead a relatively normal life thanks to HIV medication. The infection need not cause great limitations at work. Most people with HIV work and are able to cope with the demands of their job.
Problems can occur, however, with discrimination and exclusion. Superiors and colleagues are often afraid of becoming infected - even though this is not possible under normal circumstances in the workplace.
The private life of people with HIV has also become easier in many respects. For example, HIV-medications mean that HIV-positive people can generally have children. The risk of infection for a baby can be almost entirely ruled out.
To ensure the success of HIV treatment, it must be started at the right time. According to current medical knowledge, HIV medication must be taken for the rest of your life.
How does combination therapy work?
HIV replicates in the body by entering certain cells and taking control of the cell. The infected cells then produce new HIV.
HIV drugs prevent HIV from replicating in this way. There are various ways to prevent the replication of the virus. Some drugs prevent the virus from entering the cell in the first place. Others prevent HIV from taking command of the cell. And others prevent the cell from producing new virus.
HIV therapy always consists of several drugs taken together and which work in different ways. This ensures that HIV cannot replicate itself. This kind of treatment is called combination therapy.
When HIV replicates itself, innumerable quantities of new virus are produced every day. Some of these copies differ slightly from the original virus. This means that new variants of HIV are constantly produced.
Some of these new variants may be able to replicate despite the presence of certain HIV drugs in the body. When this happens, we say that these strains of the virus are resistance to that drug. In this case, the current therapy will no longer work.
For this reason, several HIV drugs are taken at once: where one drug fails, another works.
To ensure that this process functions properly, enough of the active ingredients of all the prescribed medications must be present in the body. You can achieve this by taking your drugs at the right time.
Nevertheless, sometimes a therapy becomes less effective over time. New drugs then need to be taken instead.
Like most medicines, HIV drugs can have unwanted side effects in the body.
Common side effects are nausea, diarrhea and headache, for example. These often occur at the beginning of combination therapy and then disappear once the body has adjusted to the drugs . The side effects can be relieved by other medication.
Some side effects can also have serious consequences for your health. For example, elevated fat levels in the blood can lead to a higher risk of heart attack.
Some medications can also cause a redistribution of fat in the body, or lipodystrophy. The fatty tissue in some parts of the body is reduced, for example in the face, arms and legs. In other areas the body fat increases, such as in between the organs in the abdominal area and on the neck.
Today, however, most damage to the body can be avoided by changing the HIV drugs taken.
When people with HIV become ill with certain serious conditions, they are said to have AIDS. Due to HIV infection, their immune system is no longer able to control certain viruses, bacteria or fungi. They become ill with certain kinds of pneumonia, some types of cancer or suffer from esophagitis (a fungal infection of the esophagus).
Today, thanks to therapy, fewer and fewer people in countries with good medical care become ill with AIDS. If they do, it is often because the HIV infection was discovered too late and their immune system had already been badly damaged.
Even in this case, HIV therapy is often able to stop the progression of the illness. The immune system can usually recover somewhat and the infections disappear again.
AIDS is therefore generally avoidable today and - unlike in the past - can be treated. AIDS no longer means an early death.