In one of the first studies to examine the effectiveness of highly active antiretroviral therapy among adults diagnosed with HIV infection while in late-stage HIV disease, researchers report that the anti-HIV drugs are extremely beneficial even to adults who start therapy late, Women's Health Weekly reports. The study of 1,132 HIV-positive women with advanced HIV disease showed that low CD4-cell counts and high HIV viral loads prior to starting treatment were not predictive of weaker long-term potential for treatment success as long as disease markers improved after treatment began. "Prior to this study, it was believed that many patients with advanced-stage HIV would not do very well with HAART," noted Kathryn Anastos, principal investigator in the six-year study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. "Our study shows that is not the case. It is tremendously exciting news for patients who, for a variety of reasons, do not start HIV therapy early."
Current U.S. treatment guidelines call for anti-HIV therapy to begin when CD4-cell counts fall below 350 or HIV viral loads climb above 30,000 or 55,000, depending on the test used to measure them. However, many U.S. adults do not learn that they are HIV-positive until they experience AIDS-related complications and show much more diminished CD4 counts and more advanced viral levels. The study shows that even for these patients, HAART can be effective in restoring immune function and suppressing HIV in the body.