A new study by researchers in Taiwan confirms what many scientists have longed believed--treating HIV patients with antiretroviral drugs helps lower the chances that they'll pass along the virus to their sex partners, BBC News reports. The researchers report that since Taiwan began providing free antiretroviral medications to all of the nation's HIV patients, the annual HIV infection rate has been cut in half while syphilis and gonorrhea rates have remained constant. This, the researchers say, shows that the drugs--not behavioral changes--are reducing HIV transmissions in the country.
According to the researchers, antiretroviral drugs suppress HIV viral levels in semen and vaginal fluid, making it much more difficult to pass on the virus through unprotected sex. They also say that in light of Taiwan's experiences, antiretroviral drugs should be provided to all HIV-positive people in developing countries as soon as possible to slash transmission rates of the virus. "This study shows that in a country with a relatively small epidemic, introducing early treatment for all who need it could curb the spread of HIV," Keith Alcorn, senior editor of NAM, a United Kingdom-based HIV information service, told BBC News. "It remains to be seen if it will have the same effect in countries like South Africa, where one in five are infected and treatment will begin quite late in the course of the disease."
The full study, titled "Decreased HIV Transmission After a Policy of Providing Free Access to Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy in Taiwan," appears in the September 1 Journal of Infectious Diseases.