Hesperian Health Guides
Medicines for HIV
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Although there is no cure for HIV, there are many ways to make living with HIV easier. Making sure that everyone has access to medicines, health care, emotional support, and enough food can help people live with HIV and also can help prevent the spread of HIV.
ART is important for everyone in any community affected by HIV. For people who have just been diagnosed, taking it prevents damage to and can even repair the immune system. Taking ART protects other people from HIV as well — if there is less virus in a person’s body, it spreads less easily. Anyone can get HIV, so everyone who is sexually active or pregnant should get tested and, if needed, get the medical treatment that will keep them healthy and make them less likely to pass HIV to others.
ART can also prevent HIV from infecting a person who comes in contact with the virus. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) can prevent HIV after rape or an accidental exposure to HIV. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can prevent HIV in women or men whose partners have HIV or for those who do not know the HIV status of their sexual partner. For more about these ways to use ART, see How to prevent HIV with ART.
When should someone with HIV start treatment?
Although people may not feel ill during the first years of HIV infection, this is the best time to begin treatment. Early treatment keeps the immune system strong and the infection weak. Treatment can limit the HIV in someone’s blood to such tiny amounts that it can barely be found by a test and will not easily spread to others. To keep HIV under control and stay healthy, people must keep taking ART every day.
Without treatment, or if treatment is stopped or missed too often, HIV will multiply and increase in the blood, making a person get sick more often, stay sick longer, and eventually die.
When should children start treatment?
Babies and children should start taking ART as soon as you know they have HIV. Children need treatment as soon as possible because they have very little ability to fight illness on their own, since their immune systems are still developing. Without treatment, young children are also more likely to develop disabilities caused by their HIV infection. Treatment helps babies and children grow well.