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Antiretroviral drugs are medications for the treatment of infection by retroviruses, primarily HIV. When several such drugs, typically three or four, are taken in combination, the approach is known as highly active antiretroviral therapy.

The American National Institutes of Health and other organizations recommend offering antiretroviral treatment to all patients with AIDS. Because of the complexity of selecting and following a regimen, the severity of the side-effects and the importance of compliance to prevent viral resistance.

What is antiretroviral drug treatment?

This is the main type of treatment for HIV or AIDS. It is not a cure, but it can stop people from becoming ill for many years. The treatment consists of drugs that have to be taken every day for the rest of a personís life.

The aim of antiretroviral treatment is to keep the amount of HIV in the body at a low level. This stops any weakening of the immune system and allows it to recover from any damage that HIV might have caused already.

The drugs are often referred to as:

* Antiretrovirals
* Anti-HIV or anti-AIDS drugs
* HIV antiviral drugs
* ARVs

The life cycle of HIV can be as short as about 1.5 days from viral entry into a cell, through replication, assembly, and release of additional viruses, to infection of other cells HIV lacks proofreading enzymes to correct errors made when it converts its RNA into DNA via reverse transcription. Its short life-cycle and high error rate cause the virus to mutate very rapidly, resulting in a high genetic variability of HIV. Most of the mutations either are inferior to the parent virus (often lacking the ability to reproduce at all) or convey no advantage, but some of them have a natural selection superiority to their parent and can enable them to slip past defenses such as the human immune system and antiretroviral drugs. The more active copies of the virus the greater the possibility that one resistant to antiretroviral drugs will be made, so antiretroviral combination therapy defends against resistance by suppressing HIV replication as much as possible.

Combinations of antiretrovirals create multiple obstacles to HIV replication to keep the number of offspring low and reduce the possibility of a superior mutation. If a mutation that conveys resistance to one of the drugs being taken arises, the other drugs continue to suppress reproduction of that mutation. With rare exceptions, no individual antiretroviral drug has been demonstrated to suppress an HIV infection for long; these agents must be taken in combinations in order to have a lasting effect. As a result, the standard of care is to use combinations of antiretroviral drugs. Combinations usually comprise two nucleoside-analogue RTIs and one non-nucleoside-analogue RTI or protease inhibitor.This three drug combination is commonly known as a triple cocktail.

Combinations of antiretrovirals are subject to positive and negative synergies, which limits the number of useful combinations. For example, Didanosine and AZT inhibit each other, so taking them together is less effective than taking either one separately. Other issues further limit some people's treatment options from antiretroviral drug combinations, including their complicated dosing schedules and often severe side-effects.

In recent years, drug companies have worked together to combine these complex regimens into simpler formulas, termed fixed-dose combinations. For instance, two pills containing two or three medications each can be taken twice daily. This greatly increases the ease with which they can be taken, which in turn increases adherence, and thus their effectiveness over the long-term. Lack of adherence is a primary cause of resistance development in medication-experienced patients. Patients able to adhere at this rate and higher can maintain one regimen for up to a decade without developing resistance. This greatly increases chances of long-term survival, as it leaves more drugs available to the patient for longer periods of time.

 
 

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