Using HIV meds as soon as possible slows down the virus, an international study has found. (Photo Credit: CC BY/Trygve Utstumo/Flickr)

A recent study sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health has found that if HIV patients begin drug treatment as soon as possible, transmission of the virus can be almost eliminated. Provided HIV patients have access to medical insurance, community outreach resources and other drug assistance programs to help defray the high cost of HIV medication, speedy treatment is sometimes possible.

From diagnosis to immediate treatment

In order to prevent HIV transmission, the international study founded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health concluded that immediate HIV drug treatment is the most effective method of containment. Unfortunately, medical scientists have yet to find a method of eradicating HIV entirely.

The HIV study, which began in 2005 and was slated to go on until 2015, produced such positive results that researchers were able to draw conclusions four years early. In total, 1,763 mostly heterosexual couples from around the globe (primarily in African and Asian countries, very few in the U.S.) in which one partner in each couple was HIV positive were studied. In half the couples, the infected partner received HIV medication immediately at the start of the study. Infected partners from the other half of the study were given the drugs once the immune system actually began to degrade. All couples were counseled regarding safe sex.

Findings support very early treatment

Of the 882 couples who treated the HIV in a less immediate fashion, 27 experienced HIV transmission. With the 881 couples in which HIV treatment began immediately, only one partner became infected. Scientists assert that this rigorously proves what had previously been only anecdotal support for the idea of very early treatment. However, as only a few gay male couples were included in the study, experts argue that definitive conclusions for that population cannot be derived.

Classes of HIV medication: A brief primer

If an HIV patient can afford HIV medication – which is a big “if” – the medication is derived from among seven drug classifications:

- Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs)

- Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs)

- Nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NtRTIs)

- Protease inhibitors

- Entry inhibitors, including fusion inhibitors

- Integrase inhibitors

- Combination medications from different classes

HIV medication is expensive, ranging from $273 per month (Hivid, an NRTI) to as much as $2,315 per month (Fuzeon, an entry inhibitor). Multiple forms of medication are sometimes required. In an effort to produce more affordable HIV drugs, Barr Laboratories recently released the first generic HIV medication, called Didanosine (aka Videx). It is a once-daily, delayed-release capsule that can cost as little as $40 per month through various online pharmacies.

Sources AIDS/HIV: and



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