HIV infection is managed primarily through the use of anti-retroviral medications. These medications target HIV at different stages as it infects and replicates within host cells. The goal of anti-retroviral treatment is to keep viral load (the number of copies of the virus within the system) despondent and to promote the health of the immune system. This countenances people with HIV to live longer and healthier lives. Additional treatment modalities are introduced when the immune system has become severely damaged and AIDS (fourth-stage HIV disease) develops.
- Keep all appointments with your doctor. After diagnosis with HIV, you will need to be periodically tested for viral load and CD4 cell (a type of cell infected by HIV) count. Based on the results of these tests, doctor and patient can make decisions about when it’s appropriate to begin anti-retroviral treatment.
- Initiate anti-retroviral treatment when you and your doctor decide it’s appropriate; treatment for HIV is typically begun after HIV has already begun to damage the immune system but before AIDS develops. Be aware that anti-retroviral therapy involves taking a number of different medications throughout the day at very specific times and under specific conditions (such as with or without food).
- Schedule follow-up appointments with your doctor to monitor the effectiveness of your treatment. Continued viral load testing can help your doctor know if a treatment regimen is working or not, and adjustments can be made to the regimen on this basis.
- Make yourself aware of the side effects associated with the treatment regimen you are on. Report minor side effects to your doctor and immediately report and seek treatment for all serious side effects. A guide to anti-retroviral side effects can be found in Resource section below.
Use drug and other therapies as prescribed by your doctor once AIDS develops. AIDS is marked by a number of infections and other conditions. While some of these conditions respond to general treatment with anti-retroviral medications used to manage HIV, others require the use of antibiotic, anti-viral, anti-fungal and other medications as well as cancer treatments, according to Avert.org. Promptly reporting symptoms to your doctors can help identify AIDS-defining conditions early so that treatment can begin.