HIV/AIDS 101

Get Treated. While there is not yet a cure, there are very effective treatments available that are helping people with HIV live long and healthy lives. Also, HIV positive people who are on treatment reduce the chances of passing the virus to others by 96 percent.

Why should I get treated?

If you are HIV positive, an early diagnosis can make a big difference in your health outcomes. According to guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services, antiretroviral treatment is recommended for all people living with HIV. Antiretroviral medications work to lower the levels of the virus in the bloodstream – viral load – which helps to prevent the progression of HIV to AIDS, the most advanced stage of HIV. Even if you do not feel sick or show symptoms, it’s important to consult a health care provider as soon as possible to get on treatment. In addition to benefiting your own health and well-being, people who take their medication regularly reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to sexual partners by as much as 96 percent. Also treatment significantly reduces the likelihood of an HIV-positive pregnant woman transmitting HIV to her baby.

When should I start treatment?

According to guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services, antiretroviral treatment is recommended for all people living with HIV upon diagnosis. For people who are positive getting into and staying on treatment as soon as possible improves health, extends life and also helps prevent spreading the virus to others.

What treatments are available for HIV?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved many different medications for the treatment of HIV. These medications are referred to as antiretroviral therapies, or ARVs, and are available by prescription only. HIV treatments have improved significantly over the years, becoming simpler and with fewer side effects for many people. More information on treatments can be found at aids.gov

How do I know which medication is right for me?

Different medications may work for different people so it’s important to have an ongoing and trusting relationship with a health care provider with expertise in HIV to determine the best course of treatment. Some people may be able to take newer one-pill-a-day options, while for others a treatment plan involving several different pills may work best.

How much does HIV treatment cost?

The cost of treatment for HIV/AIDS, like many diseases, can be expensive, but this shouldn’t be a barriers to getting care. There are options to help cover the cost. Many insurance plans cover prescription drugs, though coverage for HIV varies by plan. Medicaid, health coverage available to eligible people and families who have limited income, covers all FDA-approved prescription antiretrovirals.

For those who do not have insurance or whose insurance does not cover HIV treatment and otherwise cannot afford treatment, the federal “AIDS Drug Assistance Program” (ADAP),”administrated by state health departments to help those with HIV access treatment, may be an option for you. Talk with your health care provider about this option, or check with the ADAP in your state to see if you are eligible. AIDS service organizations in your area can also assist with ADAP and other drug assistance options.

Individual pharmaceutical company Patient Assistance Programs offer another avenue for financial support. In an effort to streamline the process for patients, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has partnered with seven industry partners to establish a single application form for HIV patient assistance programs. The form acts as a “one-stop shop,” allowing patients to use one form to apply for multiple patient assistance programs that together provide an entire course of antiretroviral therapy. The application can be found at http://hab.hrsa.gov/patientassistance/index.html.

How long will I have to take medication?

Once treatment is started, it is important to continue taking your medications as directed by your health care provider. Missing doses or otherwise not taking medication as prescribed may make the treatment less effective and can result in the virus becoming stronger or even resistant to future treatments.

Many health care providers today recommend that HIV-positive patients remain on treatment even when their viral load , the amount of virus in the bloodstream, is low. Some patients get big rebounds in viral load when they stop their medication, and others develop resistance to certain medications if they aren’t taken consistently. Research has also shown people who begin medication early, and take their medication regularly, reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to a sexual partner by as much as 96 percent. Decisions about treatment should be made in consultation with your physician.

What about PrEP?

The Food and Drug Administration recently approved the first daily antiretroviral agent for pre-exposure prophylaxis, often referred to as PrEP, for use by those who are negative to reduce the risk of contracting HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PrEP is intended to be used in combination with, not to replace, other prevention methods such as condoms. Strict adherence to the daily regimen and regular HIV testing are critical. It’s a major scientific advance, but it’s not for everyone and it is costly (about $14,000 per year). Decisions about whether to use PrEP should be made in consultation with a physician.

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