Since HIV first appeared in the early 1980s, various strides and advances have been made to create a treatment for the disease. In the early stages of discovering the disease, patients usually lived for a few years after getting infected, but over the years, people infected with HIV can live long and live normally as long as they keep up with modern HIV medications.
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These modern medications, however, do not cure the disease completely because the virus never leaves the body and the infected person will still be able to infect other people if they have unprotected sex or their blood gets into the blood of others.
In this article, we will explore the four major categories of antiviral medications that are used for treating HIV.
- Reverse transcriptase
- Protease inhibitors
- Fusion inhibitors
What these drugs do is that they inhibit the growth of the virus and thus, reduce the activity level of the virus so that the disease progresses at a slow rate.
This drug disrupts the process of RNA transcribing to DNA. In simpler terms, it simply inhibits the virus from making copies of itself. Normally, the HIV enzyme reverse transcriptase uses nucleotides and nucleosides as raw materials to form a new DNA. The Reverse transcriptase drug stops this process in two ways;
- It stops the reverse enzyme transcriptase using the non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs)
- It makes use of nucleoside analogues which are used by reverse transcriptase to build new DNA. However, the new DNAs will be faulty ones and cannot be useful.
This works in the cells already infected with HIV and blocks the enzyme protease. The enzyme breaks down long chains of HIV proteins into smaller ones.
This drug blocks the enzyme integrase in the cell nucleus of the infected cell. This then prevents the virus from spreading to the other cells in the body’s immune system.
This drug targets specific receptors known as CCR5 on the cell membrane of the white blood cells. These receptors are important, and they serve as the gateway for HIV to get to the host cells. With this drug, it blocks those receptors so that the virus will unable to bond with the target cell or find a way into the cell.
Treatment of HIV using Modern Combined Therapy
When treating HIV using modern treatment, a common method is to use a combination of various HIV medicines to make it difficult for the virus to resist drugs. The virus is known to change how the genetic material is composed; so, it is possible that some types of the virus can develop the ability to resist some drugs. To avoid this, modern medicine takes the approach of using different drugs simultaneously.
This treatment strategy is known as ‘’HAART’’ (Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy) or triple therapy. For this strategy, two different nucleoside analogues and one protease inhibitor are used. The amount of the virus in the blood determines the type of drug and the dosage of the drug to be used. You should, however, note that even though the level of the virus after using the drugs may be low, the infected person will still be able to infect other people and test positive for a rapid test for HIV.
Some Common Side Effects of HIV Treatment
Side effects are quite common when using HIV treatment, and it can vary from patient to patient. Some of the complaints include;
- Severe headache
- Difficulty getting sleep
- Pain in the abdomen
- Discomfort in the body
- Inability to eat
- Mood swings
- Weight gain
- Metabolic syndrome
Doctors usually work with their patients by trying different drug combinations until they find the one that works best with minimal side effects. The patient’s lifestyle also plays a role in their response to treatment and the kind of side effects they experience when using any of these drugs. Some of those lifestyle choices include eating habits, smoking habits, weight, etc.