Examining the Current Treatments and Looking Toward the Future of HIV
HIV was once considered a serious public health threat to only certain segments of American society. Today, HIV is regarded as a health threat to Americans from any walk of life. What is HIV, and how has it been treated to date? More importantly, are there promising discoveries on the horizon?
What is HIV?
Known officially as the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV is an infectious virus that weakens the human immune system by destroying the vital cells within the system responsible for fighting diseases and infection. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), no effective cure exists for HIV. However, there are ways to prevent the spread of HIV and treatments that currently exist which are designed to control the disease.
Current Treatments for HIV
The current treatment of HIV can best be described as a process of viral management. Doctors will consider an individual’s past medical history, length of time for the infection, current CD4 T-cell count, and the overall current health of an individual before prescribing a method of treatment. The current approach requires the use of antiretroviral drugs. Unfortunately, there are 25 versions available in 6 different types, and no two individuals are likely to experience success with the same combination. These drugs are often administered based upon the health factors mentioned above in the previous section, and consist of three different medicines from two of the six categories.
Currently there is no effective vaccine for HIV. Creating one has been complicated by the nature of the disease itself. HIV makes copies of itself extremely quickly, making the development of an effective vaccine next to impossible. Further, there are various types of HIV in the global population, and new strains continue to arise. Above everything else, HIV by design can outwit the immune system. This means it is impossible to completely rid the body of the virus with treatments that exist at this point.
Scientists and researchers are hopeful of finding a vaccine for the disease. After all, polio once seemed incurable, but after 47 years of research a cure was discovered and has proven immensely successful in stopping the spread of that deadly disease.
Likewise, groups of researchers and scientists are hard at work searching for a cure for HIV. There is currently a Phase 1 clinical trial of a new HIV vaccine that was developed by a team of researchers working with the Institute of Human Virology and the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Known as Full-Length Single Chain (FLSC), the immunogen is designed to “elicit strongly protective antibody responses across the spectrum of HIV-1 strains.” The antibodies the drug has proven to produce in the experimental vaccine bind to common HIV regions exposed when the virus attaches itself to target cells. This approach avoids targeting specific characteristics of the virus that may not be present in all strains of HIV.
Trials on human participants are already underway in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Mozambique, regions of the world where HIV is having a particularly devastating impact on local cultures, communities, and economies. This could be the future of HIV treatment, pending more trials and testing.