While there is no cure for acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), there are many drugs that have been developed for its treatment. Of the several treatments for AIDS, the most common type of treatment is known as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). This consists of taking more than one medication at a time, making it more difficult for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to reproduce. There are also treatments for those who may have accidentally been exposed to HIV, such as health care workers.
HAART is the most effective of all the treatments for AIDS. In this case, the patient may take three or four anti-HIV drugs at one, in an effort to keep HIV levels as low as possible. As a group, the drugs which constitute the treatments for AIDS are called antiretrovirals. A slightly less intense treatment called combination therapy involves taking just two types of antiretrovirals instead of three or four. Treatment with just one drug is usually out of the question because it has been found that HIV can quickly become resistant to one drug at a time, thereby making that drug ineffective for that particular patient.
As a part of all treatments for AIDS, antiretroviral drugs target a specific part of the cycle of the reproduction of viruses. Complex biological processes are involved in the reproduction and spread of viruses in the body, including the replication of DNA and the activity of many different types of enzymes and proteins. There are at least six classes of antiretroviral drugs, all designed to inhibit the activity of HIV at one stage or another. While the virus cannot be completely eliminated from the body once a person becomes infected, proper treatment with antiretroviral drugs can keep a person from experiencing symptoms of AIDS for many years. For full effect, anti-HIV drugs must be taken in a strict regimen every day for the rest of the person’s life.
At the beginning of treatments for AIDS, the combination of drugs given is called first line therapy. If a person experiences serious side effects to the first line therapy, or if the HIV develops a resistance to it, then a change to second line therapy takes place. A doctor will make a decision on which drugs from the first line therapy need to be replaced, based on the particular situation. Most often, at least three new drugs will be used, often including one from a different class, to attack the HIV in different ways which may be more effective, and which the patient may better tolerate.