According to one of the largest international HIV studies, patients are encouraged to start treatment sooner rather than later after they find out the diagnosis.
Early medication was found to be associated with keeping HIV patients healthier for longer than in the case of delayed treatment. People who agreed taking anti-AIDS drugs before their immune system became weak and unable to fight were far less likely to develop AIDS.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health explained that, on the other hand, HIV patients who delayed to take action until their blood tests revealed a low immune system were the ones most likely to develop any number of serious conditions.
Even though these results are just in the preliminary stage, the NIH was sold on the compelling discoveries. The agency ended the study a year earlier than it was supposed to, so the participants could start treatment; in the meantime, researchers continued to monitor their health situation.
Main funder of the study, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that patients should start their treatment course as soon as they are able to. His recommendations fall in line with current U.S. guidelines, which already supported early treatment for HIV.
Because HIV symptoms could take years before appearing, the medical community has been debating the treatment’s timeline: how soon should the patients start taking medication that is both expensive and causes side effects?
Some studies have already established that an HIV positive patient following treatment has lower chances of spreading the virus to a sexual partner. There is, however, less evidence showing that the HIV patient’s health stands to benefit from said treatment.
During the START trial — acronym for Strategic Timing of AntiRetroviral Treatment — HIV patients whose immune systems were still strong were randomly assigned to follow either early therapy or delayed therapy.
The latter group started receiving treatment when the CD4 cells, the ones measuring the strength of the immune system, dropped into a troubling zone. According to the recommendations of the World Health Organization, people should start following treatment if the CD4 cell-count drops 500 or below.
More than 4,600 people from 35 countries took part in the START trial, with researchers monitoring deaths, development of AIDS, and development of other grave illnesses like cancer, and heart disease, over a period of three years.
After the follow-up period, the early treatment group benefitted from a reduction by 53 percent in the risk of illness or death. In spite of the great results, Dr. Jay Levy of the University of California, San Francisco, is still reluctant about the idea of putting everyone on therapy.
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