Saturday, January 28, 2012

HIV Treatment – A Promising Approach to Prevention

The use of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) by patients infected by HIV, the causative agent of AIDS, has prolonged the lives of many individuals.  When several of these drugs are used in combination, typically three or four, this protocol is referred to as Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART).  The application of HAART has been found to consistently lower the viral load – the number of viral particles in circulation in the bloodstream – resulting in preserving the integrity of the immune system with the resulting increase in the quality of life and longevity of AIDS patients.

Since this therapeutic approach lowers the viral burden, it might be assumed that it would also dramatically lower transmission of the disease.  Although this is a very appealing idea, the efficacy of ARVs in diminishing the spread of AIDS through sexual contact with infected individuals required further study.

Such a study was, in fact, conducted; it was referred to as the 052 clinical trial conducted by the HIV Prevention Trials Network.  Results of this study were finally reported in May on 2011 – ARVs effectively reduced heterosexual transmission of HIV by 96%.

Inspired by these encouraging data, Doctor Anthony Fauci, Director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated that, "The idea of the tension between treatment and prevention, we should just forget about it and just put it behind us, because treatment is prevention."  On account of the profound implications of this result, the prestigious scientific publication, Science, has proclaimed this the scientific breakthrough of 2011.  

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