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Shortly following the discovery of HIV in 1981, a variety of monotherapy treatments, including the better-known treatment called AZT, were introduced to patients in an effort to slow the virus’s progression. Despite initial successes, these monotherapies proved ineffective due to the virus’s ability to quickly develop resistances to single drug therapies.
In 1995, the combination treatment known as the "AIDS Cocktail" was introduced to people with HIV/AIDS. This type of therapy has often been referred to as the highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). It may also be called combination antiretroviral therapy (cART), or simply antiretroviral therapy (ART).
Regardless of its name, dramatic improvements have been seen among people who have used combination treatments since they were first initiated.
People who receive combination therapy have reported decreased viral loads, increased CD4 counts, and increased T-cell counts. The life expectancies of HIV patients have become much closer to general mortality rates since the introduction of antiretroviral therapy. The introduction and ongoing successes of the "AIDS Cocktail" has brought a sense of renewed hope about not only the longevity of an HIV-infected person’s life, but also about his or her overall quality of life.
A variety of antiretroviral drug therapies are currently available by prescription. Each drug included in the combination therapy serves a unique purpose. The combination of drugs works to prevent the virus from replicating, and in many cases, can restore the patient’s CD4 and T-cell counts, thereby improving the quality and longevity of life.
The current classes of drugs included in antiretroviral therapies include:
According to the National Institute of Health, the current recommendations for an initial HIV drug regimen includes three HIV medicines and two or more different drug classes. Typically, this includes: two NRTIs with an INSTI, NNRTI, or PI, with ritonavir or cobicistat as a booster.
The drug regimen recommended for each person should take into consideration potential drug interactions, previous drug-resistance testing, and dosing frequency. Once a regimen is put into place, your ongoing reaction and success levels will be carefully monitored by your doctor. In the event of severe side effects or proven ineffectiveness, alterations to the drug regimen will be recommended.
While antiretroviral treatments are currently recommended for all people diagnosed with HIV, those who are currently pregnant, have previously reported an AIDS-defining illness, have been diagnosed with hepatitis B, and have had a recent CD4 count below 500 are considered priority.
Once an antiretroviral treatment is initiated, it should be maintained indefinitely.
Antiretroviral drug therapies previously relied upon achieving two primary outcomes: the inhibition of the proteins protease and reverse transcriptase. Today, recent approvals for additional HIV treatment options that block the virus’s entry into the body’s CD4 cells and the introduction of the virus’s genetic materials (entry inhibitors and integrase inhibitors) expand the number of combinations available to patients.
Written by: Julie Verville
Medically reviewed on: Dec 19, 2016: Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP
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