There is no cure for HIV but there are now highly effective treatments that control the virus in the blood and allow people living with HIV to live long and healthy lives. These treatments are referred to as antiretroviral treatment, antiretroviral therapy, or antiretroviral medication—they all mean the same thing. Antiretroviral treatment works to stop HIV replication in your blood, which then reduces the amount of virus in your blood to undetectable levels. Undetectable levels mean that with our current technology, we cannot detect the level of virus (or viral load) in the blood. Most HIV viral load tests today can measure as low as 20 copies/ml of HIV in the blood. When those types of tests comes back as undetectable, it means there is less than 20 copies/ml of HIV in the blood. To put that into context, in the absence of treatment, HIV typically is present at 1000-100,000 copies/ml in the blood. That is how effective our treatments are today!
Antiretroviral treatment is usually taken as a combination of two or more drugs. There are treatment options today that combine two and three drugs into one pill that is taken daily. When effective antiretroviral treatment first came out in 1996, people living with HIV used to have multiple pills multiple times a day, making it hard to adhere to the complicated drug regimens. But with scientific advancements in treatment, many people living with HIV can take one pill once a day to keep their viral loads suppressed and undetectable. Once linked to care and starting antiretroviral treatment, it could take up to 6 months for the virus to become suppressed and undetectable. Your provider will be monitoring your viral load closely to see how well the treatment is working and if any changes to your medication are needed.
Adhering to antiretroviral treatment and having a undetectable viral load is so important. Antiretroviral treatment keeps the immune system strong and healthy, allowing people living with HIV to live long and healthy lives. Most importantly, when viral loads are suppressed to undetectable levels, there is NO RISK of sexually transmitting the virus to others, even during unprotected sex (for more information, visit U=U). Because of these benefits, antiretroviral treatment is recommended to all people living with HIV, no matter how long they have had HIV, what their CD4 T cell count is, or how healthy they feel. Linkage to care and adhering the antiretroviral treatment is the key to both maintaining a healthy life and preventing any chance of sexually transmitted the virus.
Your provider can work with you to find the right antiretroviral treatment regimen that works best for you. If you are in Colorado and want to speak to a healthcare provider about different HIV treatment options, call Colorado Health Network at 303-962-5317 or visit https://coloradohealthnetwork.org/health-care-services/