New HIV Drugs Can Now Extend Life Expectancy To 'Near Normal'

Since HIV became a worldwide threat, researchers have been working on improving treatments in the hopes of countering the long-term effects of this dreadful condition. Fortunately, all their efforts are now bearing promising fruit as a new HIV drug allows near-normal life expectancy for HIV-positive individuals.

According to BBC News, twenty-year-olds started antiretroviral therapy back in 2010 and the result is that these individuals are projected to live 10 years longer as compared to those who underwent the treatment in 1996.

Despite the fact that in the developing world, the majority of HIV deaths occur solely because the access to drugs is limited. Moreover, according to charities, there are still too many individuals who remain unaware that they have the virus to begin with. Findings led doctors to the conclusion that starting the treatment early is an important factor to achieve a long and healthy life.

Now, the life expectancy for young HIV-positive adults has risen by 10 years in both the United States and Europe. Apparently, improvements have been made in AIDS drugs which researchers refer to as antiretroviral therapy. The newly achieved feat makes it possible for HIV-positive individuals to live as long as those who don't have HIV, provided that they are able to get treatment early on.

According to RTE, scientists credit the significant improvement on HIV drugs to the transition to less toxic medicine combinations. Moreover, more drug options for people infected with drug-resistant HIV strains were also implemented, hence better adherence to the treatment became possible.

The research lead at the University of Bristol, Adam Trickey, explained the background behind antiretroviral therapy.

"Our research illustrates a success story of how improved HIV treatments coupled with screening, prevention, and treatment of health problems associated with HIV infection can extend the lifespan."
Apparently, antiretroviral therapy was first used in the mid-1990s and involved combinations of three or more drugs that should block the HIV virus' replication. The latter makes it possible to prevent and repair damage inflicted on the immune system, courtesy of HIV. Moreover, the treatment also prevents the disease from spreading further.Fortunately, the effects of antiretroviral therapy have improved as patients who underwent the treatment in 2010 are showing more promising results than those who took it in 1996. Researchers analyzed 18 European and North American studios that involved 88,504 HIV-positive individuals who started antiretroviral therapy between 1996 and 2007.

Results revealed that fewer people who started treatment between 2008 and 2010 died during their first three years undergoing treatment as compared to those who started between 1996 and 20017.

According to Trickey's team, the HIV-related deaths seemed to decline in number over time between 1996 and 2010 because of improvements made to the treatment, such as modern drugs that have proven to be more effective in restoring the immune system.

The great news is, the life expectancy of 20-year-olds treated for HIV has increased by nine years for women and ten years for men in both Europe and North America. However, some HIV-positive individuals did not show such promising results. Apparently, those who became infected through the use of contaminated needles, probably because of administering drugs, did not show any improvements.

Meanwhile, Dr. Michael Brady, medical director at the Terrence Higgins Trust, also agreed about the improvement in treatments for HIV since it started in the 1980s. However, he also pointed out that healthcare, social care, and welfare systems are not ready to support the increasing number of aging HIV-positive individuals. Apparently, one in three of all those still living with HIV is now aged over 50 and in need of the proper care.

On the other hand, Royal College of GPs chairwoman Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard stated that the new HIV treatment is a "tremendous medical achievement." She later added that "We hope the results of this study go a long way to finally removing any remaining stigma associated with HIV and ensuring that patients with HIV can live long and healthy lives without experiencing difficulties in gaining employment and - in countries where it is necessary - obtaining medical insurance."

As a result, the World Health Organization recommends antiretroviral therapy to be given as soon as a person is diagnosed with HIV. The latter is now more relevant than ever since the proportion of people with undiagnosed HIV has continuously decreased over the last 20 years.

[Featured Image By Efrem Lukatsky/AP Images]