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HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) Infection - Treatment Overview

The most effective treatment for HIV is antiretroviral therapy (ART), a combination of several medicines that aims to control the amount of virus in your body. For more information, see Medications.

Other steps you can take include the following:

  • Keep your immune system strong by eating right, quitting smoking, and learning how to avoid infection. For more information, see Home Treatment.
  • Monitor your CD4+ (white blood cells) counts to check the effect of the virus on your immune system. For more information, see Exams and Tests.
  • See a counselor to help you handle the strong emotions and stress that can follow an HIV diagnosis. For more information, see Other Treatment.
  • Reduce stress so that you can better manage the HIV illness. For more information, see Other Treatment.

Starting treatment

Medical experts recommend that people begin treatment for HIV as soon as they know that they are infected.1, 2 Treatment is especially important for pregnant women, people who have other infections (such as tuberculosis or hepatitis), and people who have symptoms of AIDS.

Research suggests that treatment of early HIV with antiretroviral medicines has long-term benefits, such as a stronger immune system.6

But you may decide not to get treated at first. If you put off treatment, you will still need regular checkups to measure the amount of HIV in your blood and check how well your immune system is working.

You may want to start HIV treatment if your sex partner doesn't have HIV. Treatment of your HIV infection can help prevent the spread of HIV to your sex partner.6

HIV: When Should I Start Taking Antiretroviral Medicines for HIV Infection?

Treatment to prevent HIV infection

Health care workers who are at risk for HIV because of an accidental needlestick or other exposure to body fluids may need medicine to prevent infection.7

Also, medicine may prevent HIV infection in a person who has been raped or was accidentally exposed to the body fluids of a person who may have HIV.8 This type of treatment is usually started within 72 hours of the exposure.

And studies have shown that if you are not infected with HIV, taking antiretroviral medicines can protect you against HIV.9, 10, 11 But to keep your risk low, you still need to use safer sex practices.

Living with HIV

Learning how to live with HIV infection may keep your immune system strong, while also preventing the spread of HIV to others.

If your partner has HIV:

Treatment for AIDS

If HIV progresses to a late stage, treatment will be started or continued to keep your immune system as healthy as possible.

If you get any diseases that point to AIDS, such as Pneumocystispneumonia or Kaposi's sarcoma, your doctor will treat them.

Many important end-of-life decisions can be made while you are active and able to communicate your wishes. For more information, see the topic Care at the End of Life.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 16, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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