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Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is behind the largest and deadliest pandemic in the recent human history. In 2011, 34 million people were living with HIV worldwide.
In our age of advanced medicine, the situation when infectious disease spreads seemingly out of control is very rare. For the majority of common infectious diseases we have either medicine capable of curing them, or at least, medication making them manageable. Also, preventive measures such as vaccinations allow to put most infections under control.
But effective therapeutic management is now available. HAART (Highly Active AntiRetroviral Therapy) helps to eliminate the most of virus from the body of infected person, thus reducing to the minimum his or her chances to develop AIDS and suffer any other infection-related health problems. In fact, people receiving the antiretroviral therapy can now expect to live almost normal life, and their average life expectancy is almost the same as in the healthy population.
Advantages and problems of modern antiretroviral therapy
Modern drugs effectively reduce the level of virus in the blood (viral load) to almost undetectable level. The decrease in viral load not only improves the immune system of the patient but also decrease the risk of HIV transmission to healthy people.
The price to pay - take a pill every day. Like any other chronic disease, HIV needs to be treated by drugs on a daily basis. And there is always a danger of developing drug resistance thus making the medicines ineffective. On top of this, drugs do have both short-term and long-term side effects that in some cases can be severe.
The problems of living with HIV make the development of cure very desirable. Lots of research is being done worldwide in the pursuit of this goal. But how achievable is this target? Can we expect any real breakthrough that is so eagerly anticipated by millions of infected people?
Although modern HAART therapy is hailed as a great success, the cure of HIV remains an elusive goal. There were, however, several reports of so-called functional cure of HIV infection in several individuals.
One HIV-positive patient received the bone marrow transplant from a donor with a rare natural genetically programmed resistance to HIV infection. The monitoring of this patient so far did not reveal any signs of disease return. He was declared completely free from HIV thus making him the first ever person to be cured of the disease.
Another very recent report described the case of a newborn baby who got infection from mother. Therapeutic intervention with HAART has started almost immediately after the baby was born and seemed to be successful in completely elimination of virus.
Obviously, the above strategies are not viable for the overwhelming majority of patients. Something else has to be done.