Although it is impossible to completely eliminate the HIV virus in humans, it can be effectively managed through the use of one or more medications. HIV medications have evolved over time to become more effective and more convenient for patients to self-administer, and one of the greatest advances in HIV treatment is going from confusing drug cocktails to single-dose pills.
A Brief History of AIDS Medications
HIV and AIDS treatments have gone through an amazing evolution since the 1980s, when the virus was nearly always fatal. Today, HIV is considered a chronic ailment rather than a death sentence, and someone diagnosed with the disease in their 20s can be expected to live to be 70 years of age or older.
The first drug developed to fight HIV infection, azidothymidine (AZT), was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1987. This compound is in a relatively new class of drugs called antiretrovirals, which are characterized by their ability to prevent viruses from multiplying.
AZT was expensive, not as effective as doctors had hoped it would be and carried several serious side effects. By the 1990s, researchers had given up on single-dose medications and started working on combination treatments, which became known as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) or combination antiretroviral therapy (cART).
In HAART, patients take a complex cocktail of drugs in at least two different classes in order to reduce the concentration of HIV viruses in the body. The combination is designed to minimize viral count while preventing the viruses from becoming resistant.
Modern HIV and AIDS Medications
In 2006, pharmaceutical companies streamlined the treatment process by developing new drugs and introducing fixed-dose medications that combine two or more drugs into a single pill. Currently, four of these medications are regularly prescribed:
- Atripla contains efavirenz, emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate.
- Complera contains emtricitabine, rilpivirine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate.
- Stribild contains cobicistat, elvitegravir, emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate.
- Triumeq contains abacavir, dolutegravir and lamivudine.
As medical advancements continue to improve, newer and more effective drugs may be developed that can make HIV treatment even more convenient.