Therapy : Swiss AIDS Federation

Combination therapy – antiretroviral drugs

Medicine cannot cure HIV. However, there are drugs with which the HIV infection can be effectively treated and controlled. If the drugs are taken consistently, the therapy markedly increases the quality of life and the life expectancy of people living with HIV.

How does combination therapy work?

Therapy with different drugs which are taken at the same time – combination therapy – prevents the HI virus from replicating in the body. In this way the immune system is relieved and can partly recuperate. The health of the affected person improves and allows him or her to lead an almost normal life.

Why is combination therapy necessary?

The HI virus permanently changes – it mutates. A single drug therefore quickly loses its effectiveness, the mutated virus becomes resistant towards this drug. In contrast, a therapy which combines together many active substances is able to control the HI virus in spite of mutations.

Can one survive HIV without therapy?

Without effective treatment, the HIV infection sooner or later leads to AIDS and to death.
Therefore it is important that the HIV therapy is begun early enough and the drugs are taken consistently. These drugs improve the health status of the person affected with HIV and help, as far as the therapy intake is correct, that the HI virus is not transmitted to their sexual partner. The HIV therapy must be continued for life.

Are all HIV positive people treated with a combination therapy?

No. Every HIV positive person decides together with his or her doctor when it is the correct time to begin therapy. Some people wish to and are able to wait, others prefer to start the treatment early. In addition, not all HIV positive people know that they are infected with HIV and do not think about starting therapy at all.

Do you need to go to a specialist if you are HIV positive?

Treating HIV infections is complex and requires specialist knowledge. Therefore, the experience of HIV specialists is an important factor in the success of treating HIV infection. It is vital that there is a trust between the patient and the doctor and one feels to be in good hands. It is recommended to get advice through a regional AIDS center.

Is it correct that HIV positive people who take antiretroviral drugs are no longer contagious?

People living with HIV who are receiving effective HIV therapy do not spread HIV. By regularly taking their HIV medication, their viral load is not detectable. A successful HIV treatment protects just like a condom or PrEP.

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