HIV infection is a life long infection. Although there is currently no cure for HIV infection, there are treatments that can help lessen illness and prolong life. Doctors and other scientists are currently working on better treatments and possibly even a cure.
Research has shown that antiretroviral drugs do not eradicate the AIDS virus but merely hold the disease in check. When drug therapy is stopped, the virus tends to spread rapidly. This means that to control the virus a patient may face a lifetime taking the drugs, and such long-term use causes the toxicity risk to become a major possibility. Long-term use of antiretroviral drugs causes some patients to develop extremely high total cholesterol readings and to develop heart disease at an early age. Additionally, long-term use can result in a patient's virus developing a resistance that makes the drugs no longer of value.
In 1996, deaths from AIDS in the USA fell significant for the first time since the AIDS epidemic began in the early 1980s. The decline occurred in all regions of the country and in all racial and ethnic groups. It believed deaths from AIDS are falling for two reasons. The number of infected people who are progressing to AIDS -- the advanced, often lethal stage of the disease -- is levelling off. At the same time, better medical therapies are prolonging the survival of patients who are already at that stage. Because the trend appears to have begun in 1995, only some of the fall can be attributed to the growing use of protease inhibitors, a potent new class of antiviral drugs that became widely available in 1996. Protease inhibitors are now commonly used in combination with two other antiviral drugs in what has become known as 'triple therapy'. Another more widespread treatment is the use of an anti-infective pill that helps prevent Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, the most common 'opportunistic' infection in AIDS patients.