HIV patients ‘must get treatment’

By Alison Hsiao  /  Staff reporter

Wed, Mar 20, 2013 - Page 3

Recent reports about HIV patients being “functionally cured” after early medical intervention should not be a reason for patients to make a unilateral decision to stop treatment, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said yesterday, underscoring that the cases reported are extremely rare and thus not applicable to all patients.

Other than a report of a baby born in Mississippi, US, having reportedly been cured of an infection with the virus that causes AIDS, French researchers announced last week that 14 patients who have received antiretroviral treatment within 10 weeks of being infected with HIV have after seven-and-a-half years showed no signs of the virus returning, leading to doctors calling them “functionally cured.”

The CDC yesterday said that although the virus in those cases could be controlled at low levels without the ability to replicate in the blood, they are nonstandard cases.

Luo I-chun (羅一鈞), a physician specializing in disease prevention at the centers, said that the patients reportedly received treatment shortly after becoming infected, a practice that is not always possible for most people with HIV, because they usually do not find out about the infection until the virus has already infiltrated the body.

Luo added that “the 14 functionally cured people were identified out of a total of 70 patients whose treatment had been interrupted,” while the rest of the 70 patients relapsed and had the virus returning to pre-treatment levels.

CDC statistics showed that as of the end of last year, Taiwan had 13,323 patients with HIV taking antiretroviral drugs and 20 percent of them have not regularly revisited doctors for treatment.

An analysis has found that 95 percent of patients who have been taking drugs regularly have a viral load so low that the virus is no longer detectable, which shows that only regular treatment can control the viral load and reduce the risk of patients developing other life-threatening infections, the CDC said.

In most of the patients, the viral load in their blood increased after they stopped taking antiretroviral drugs. An interruption of treatment might also result in drug resistance and eventually in therapy failure, the CDC said.

It advised all patients infected with HIV to take antiretroviral drugs on a regular basis to prevent their immune systems being compromised and their developing other infections, which can lead to an early death.