All you want to know about ART – AntiRetroviral Treatment
Before getting into AntiRetroviral Treatment, what it is and what happens to the body when a HIV infected person starts ART, lets know some basics about what happens to a human body when infected with HIV.
HIV, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, as many of you know, is a type of virus that is mostly transmitted through unprotected sex, sharing of needles, infected mother to baby by birth etc. Once HIV enters a healthy body, it starts multiplying and this virus starts attacking the immune system of the body. Specifically the CD4 cells of white blood cells, also called T-Cells. CD4 cells are the ones which fight against any infection that a body may acquire. Attacking CD4 cells and reducing their count faster than the body can produce results in Immunodeficiency, where the body loses its shield of defense to protect the body against infections.
How exactly HIV kills CD4 cells?
Once HIV enters the body, it gets onto the surface of the CD4 cells, then goes inside of it, multiplies inside it and kills the cell from the inside. Once the CD4 cell dies, tons of multiplied viruses come out of it which again take over other CD4 cells and repeat the process. This results in fewer and lesser number of healthy CD4 cells that can fight against the virus. That’s all HIV actually does.
Now that the immunity shield of the body is down, any tiny bacteria that was not once harmful can attack the body and destroy any part of the body at it’s will. Such illnesses are called ‘Opportunistic Infections’ because they exploit the ‘no defense’ condition of the body.
In a healthy individual, normal CD4 count should range between 500 to 1400 cells per cubic mm of blood. When the virus starts attacking them, the count eventually falls for those who are not on ART (Antiretroviral Treatment). When the count falls below 200, the body becomes vulnerable and an easy target for any kind of microbe, eventually causing death.
Treating HIV infection - ART
If your HIV Test results are positive, don’t be in a panic and don’t imagine that you are going to die in a couple of years. Talk to the specialist, he/she will put you onto medication called ‘ART – Antiretroviral Treatment’. There are over 20 different medicines and they are categorized into six types. Each medicine has its own way of fighting with the virus.
A good sexologist, typically picks a combination of drugs from different categories based on the type of strain you are infected with. Also, the medicines picked depend on your existing medical condition(s), the drugs that you are already taking. Dosage will also be mentioned by the sexologist.
When should a person start taking ART?
There are 2 conditions here:
- If you think you had a sexual encounter with an infected person, you must rush to see the doctor and get a PCR test done to check the viral load in your body. If negative, then you are good. If positive, and if it is less than 72 hours, your doctor may put you onto PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) so that the virus is eliminated as soon as it enters the body before spreading.
- If it has been more than 72 hours and you have tested positive, you must go on ART immediately without any delay. It is important to keep your CD4 at normal or near normal levels at all times.
Side Effects of ART
- Nausea or vomiting
- Skin rashes
- Problem sleeping
Once the body gets adjusted to the medicines, these side effects will go away on their own. If they don’t, you need to report this to your doctor and he/she may change the drug combination.