A recent research keenly studied the effect of discontinuing HIV drug therapy and then restarting it as and when required. The results can be positively devastating, reported the study. New England Journal of Medicine has published the results of this current research in its Nov 30 issue. If the treatment is discontinued, the patients face a greater chance of developing full blown AIDS and also suffer from toxic side effects of the anti retro viral drugs that are used for treatment.
In the initial days when antiretroviral drugs were introduced for the first time, ARV drugs helped to control HIV infection in a big way. However, these drugs are known to cause grave side effects, such as complications related to the heart and metabolic functions. The treatment is also quite exorbitant and difficult to abide by. Resistant viral strains may also develop as a result of anti retroviral treatment.
However, in spite of all the odds tossed against it, it's safer for a HIV infected person any day to be continuously on ARV treatment than, stopping treatment.
At one point of time, doctors had indeed speculated on calling for a time out in between treatment. But not any more.
Dr. Roy Gulick, director of the HIV Clinical Trials Unit, appended to Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, explained that the levels of the virus is kept suppressed only when the ARV drugs are regularly taken without any break, whatsoever. Other wise, the patient will inevitably have to suffer unexpected relapses and complications.
The research, that was intended to span over a period of 6 years was called off after 16 months as the dangers were too high for the group of HIV infected volunteers that were given doses of ARV drugs, intermittently. Unlike what doctors had presumed, the chances of cardiovascular, liver and kidney diseases increased. These diseases were previously considered as side effects. Actually absence of treatment opens up the risk even more.
In the experiment patients were stopped giving medications when their levels of CD4+ counts came up to 350. Each time it dropped to 250 treatment would be restarted. But these patients showed 2- 21/2 times more chances of going into a full blown AIDS syndrome than the volunteers who were given regular and continuous treatment, irrespective of their CD4+ count.
More illnesses affecting other systems in the body were noted among those who were given intermittent drug treatment. The new findings indicate that other side effects are mostly a result of the extensively long period of infection with HIV.