Published on 01 December 2014
Every day about 137 people in America are infected with HIV according to U.S. government estimates. In honor of World AIDS Day, Alexandria Garavaglia-Wilson, Pharm.D., assistant professor of pharmacy practice writes about treatment for newly diagnosed patients. Dr. Wilson specializes in HIV treatment at a St. Louis area HIV clinic. She writes:
The health outlook for newly diagnosed patients is very good. I believe as long as patients take their medication, they can live as long as someone who does not have the virus. Despite these amazing advances, there is still no cure and patients do need to continue to take all necessary precautions.
A majority of patients can take as little as one pill once a day. There have been tremendous advances in HIV treatment in the last 15 years, and the days of taking five pills twice or three times a day are gone. We’re also finding the medications are very effective. They get the virus down to undetectable levels quickly, and as long as the patient continues to take their medication, the amount of virus in the body will stay very low. That basically equals control. The side effects of the medication we’re now seeing are all minimal compared to what patients experienced 20 or 30 years ago.
When I start treating a newly diagnosed patient, I expect their viral load (the amount of HIV in their body) to reach the undetectable mark in six months. Often times I see that happen sooner rather than later because the medications are so effective. This is not true for every patient. Viral load and overall health influence how well the medication works.
There are a lot of factors including how high the viral load is once the patient begins treatment and the patient’s overall health.
Because of medical advances in HIV treatment, we’re starting to treat patients for diseases associated with older age like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Treating these chronic diseases is a little more difficult in a patient with HIV because there are many drug interactions with HIV medications. Despite those challenges, we are still able to help patients with these other issues.