As the International AIDS Conference convenes this week in Washington, D.C., the world is flooded with updates on the fight against HIV and AIDS. The latest news comes from the International Antiviral Society-USA Panel, which calls on HIV-positive patients to get started on treatment immediately instead of waiting for symptoms to appear.
The recommendation, published in JAMA, is based on recent research showing that reducing viral loads in HIV-positive patients to undetectable levels can decrease the rate of transmission by 96 percent. By starting on HIV therapy as soon as possible, then, patients can delay disease progression, while also decreasing further spread of the virus.
The latest advisory is in contrast to earlier practice, when doctors would wait to prescribe drugs until evidence of the disease presented itself in the form of decreased levels of CD4 cells, a type of white blood cell crucial for maintaining a vigorous immune defense system. However, following research demonstrating that early treatment can be used as a form of prevention, the standard recommendation has changed. Furthermore, HIV drugs have become much less toxic, as well as less expensive, thus allowing for more universal treatment.
“The recommendation has really come around 180 degrees,” says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “It’s a monumental step to not only reduce a patient’s viral loads without waiting for AIDS-related illness, but also to prevent the ability to pass on the virus.”