Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV, AIDS) (cont.)

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Should patients with the flu- or mono-like illness of primary HIV infection be treated?

There are theoretical reasons why patients identified with HIV around the time they are first infected (primary, acute infection) may benefit from the immediate initiation of potent antiviral therapy. Preliminary evidence suggests that unique aspects of the body's immune response to the virus may be preserved by this strategy. It is thought that treatment during the primary infection may be an opportunity to help the body's natural defense system to work against HIV. Thus, patients may gain improved control of their infection while on therapy and perhaps even after therapy is stopped. At one time, the hope was that if therapy was started very early in the course of the infection, HIV could be eradicated. Most evidence today however suggests that this is not the case, although research will certainly continue in the coming years in this area. In addition, recent data demonstrated that a subset of those starting ART within the first weeks of infection were able to stop therapy after many years and maintain good viral control off treatment. While this response does not occur in the majority of similarly treated patients, the observations are intriguing and an area of ongoing research. Regardless, at least for now it is premature to think that early treatment may result in a cure, although other benefits may still exist, including avoiding the substantial damage to the immune system that occurs during the first weeks of infection. In addition, these individuals have very high levels of virus in their blood and genital secretions, and early treatment might reduce their risk of transmitting HIV to others. There also is evidence that those who develop such symptoms during the early days of infection may be at greater risk of disease progression than those who become infected with minimal or no symptoms. Due to the absence of definitive data, guidelines vary, but many suggest that patients with primary infection be offered early therapy, much as most guidelines do for everyone presenting with HIV infection regardless of stage of disease.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/5/2014

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