5 Things We Learned from the International AIDS Conference

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This summer’s 19th International AIDS Conference, while acknowledging the still-great challenge of fighting the disease, was filled with talk of new battle strategies, such as early treatment and preventive drugs, and even hopeful discussion about research into a cure.

HIV remains a serious health condition and still claims lives around the globe, but several presenters at the Washington, D.C., event — held in the U.S. for the first time in 22 years, with the end of the nation’s ban on HIV-positive immigrants and visitors from abroad—offered ideas they say promise progress against the virus and its complications.
Among the more interesting:

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Early Treatment Rules

One group of researchers unveiled new treatment guidelines that call for physicians to put HIV-positive individuals on medications as soon as they are diagnosed, instead of waiting until their immune system shows signs of deterioration (as measured by T-cell count), which has been a common approach.

The need for treatment does become more urgent as T-cell count decreases, said the researchers, but the availability of a variety of drugs and studies indicating the benefits of early treatment make it worthwhile to begin even before T-cell counts are affected. The team, led by Atlanta physician Melanie Thompson, recommends a regimen of Truvada or Epizom plus either Sustiva, Reyataz, Prezista, or Isentress.

These drugs can not only decrease the amount of HIV in the body, they can make it more difficult for an HIV-positive person to transmit the virus (although safer-sex practices are still called for). “The scientific community really recognizes how valuable they could be to prevent transmission,” Rowena Johnston, director of research for amfAR, told HealthDay.


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A New Way of Preventing HIV
The idea of “treatment as prevention” also informed the discussion of Truvada’s recent approval to be prescribed as a preventive measure for HIV-negative people at high risk of contracting the virus. Some conference attendees questioned the wisdom of using the drug for prevention, given its cost, the possibility of side effects, and the danger that people taking it may become lax about safer-sex precautions. Harvard University researcher and conference presenter Douglas Krakower said, however, that he considers it irresponsible “to withhold strategies that may be protective.”

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