Set delivery address
Set delivery address

How is HIV/Aids treated?

While an HIV/Aids cure has not yet been found, the disease can be well-managed with antiretroviral therapy (ART).

29 November 2022 | By Glynis Horning

ART is made up of a combination of different anti-HIV drugs, each of which attacks the virus in a different way or at a different stage in its life cycle.  

Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) can reduce the amount of virus in your body (viral load) until eventually it becomes undetectable, and you are no longer infectious. However, you need to keep taking the ARVs to maintain this, or the virus will again begin replicating itself in your body and become resistant to the ARVs, says Professor Francois Venter, Executive Director: Ezintsha, Faculty of Health Sciences, at the University of the Witwatersrand. 

Today more than 40 ARVs have been approved for treatment, although many have been discontinued, he says. In South Africa there are six main classes, and generally drugs from two or more classes are combined in the pills you are prescribed.

In 2019 the Department of Health adopted dolutegravir/lamivudine/tenofovir (TLD) as its first-line regimen, but there are other options if you experience severe side-effects, although these are rare, Venter says. “A similar regimen is recommended in the private sector by the SA HIV Clinicians Society.”

Your healthcare provider will monitor your CD4 count and the viral load in your blood and adjust your treatment accordingly. It’s important to take ARVs as prescribed to stay healthy. Everyone with HIV infection, regardless of CD4 count, is offered antiviral medication as quickly as possible, often on the same day they are diagnosed, Venter says.

ARVs have improved significantly, but can still have side effects, from mild ones that go away when your body gets used to the drug, to very rarely, serious, even life-threatening ones – especially if you have other health conditions or are on other medication that interacts with ARVs. It’s vital to talk with your health professional and pharmacist about any other medication, supplements or alternative substances you may be taking. 

Before changing your medication, they may suggest ways to manage side-effects, “But none of these really happen anymore with the new drugs,” Venter says. “Try to lead a healthy lifestyle.”

To combat fatigue, eat a balanced, nutritious diet, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, exercise will help. Also stick to a regular sleep schedule, with a relaxing bedtime routine and no caffeine a few hours before. Take a warm shower or bath, make your bedroom as dark quiet and comfortable as possible, and try listening to soothing music or meditation podcasts to dose off, or if you wake in the night.

If you experience depression, anxiety or mood swings, avoid self-medicating with alcohol or recreational drugs. Ask your healthcare professional about counselling, or antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. 

How Clicks Clinics can help you

Clicks Clinics offers HIV testing and counselling. To make an appointment at a Clicks Clinic, call 0860 254 257 or visit Clinics online.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com