How do medications treat HIV?

William D. King, MD
Internal Medicine
There are specific medications called antiretrovirals that are specifically used to treat HIV. HIV is a virus that utilizes our DNA or genetic code to make more of the virus and less of us. The antiretrovirals attack specific parts within the virus replication cycle to either block replication, prevent a necessary component to be made or prevent the virus from attaching to the T-cell, ( white blood cell) in the first place.  The ultimate result is that the amount of virus or the viral load goes down and the T Cell count ultimately goes up ~ 100 cells per year. Depending upon the T cell count there may be other medications: antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals that are given to prevent or treat opportunisitic infections.  This is particularly true when the T Cell count goes below 200.
Anti-retroviral drugs stop HIV from replicating and growing. There are a number of different anti-retroviral drugs used to fight HIV. These drugs prohibit the action of certain enzymes that are involved in replication of the virus. If the drugs can slow the replication, this will decrease the destruction of white blood cells, called CD4 lymphocytes. The drugs must be taken regularly, as prescribed, for life; there is no cure for HIV. Other drugs are used to fight other effects of HIV infection, such as antibiotics to prevent opportunistic infections and others to stop side effects like nausea or pain.

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Antiretroviral drugs stop HIV from replicating and growing. The antiretrovirals attack specific parts within the virus replication cycle to either block replication, prevent a necessary component to be made or prevent the virus fr...

om attaching to the T-cell (white blood cell) in the first place.
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