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Starting HIV Treatment Early can Boost Immune Health, Study Reports

Update Date: Nov 27, 2014 03:31 PM EST

Getting treatment for HIV-1 (human immunodeficiency virus) with antiretroviral therapy (ART) early can boost patients' immune system, a new study found. According to researchers, treating the infection as soon as it is diagnosed can reduce people's risk of developing AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) by one half.

"The immune system can be reconstituted most effectively and durably if ART is initiated quickly after infection," said senior author Sunil K. Ahuja, M.D., professor of medicine, microbiology/immunology and biochemistry in the School of Medicine at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio.

For this study, the researchers examined more than 1,100 U.S. military members and beneficiaries who were diagnosed with HIV-1. The researchers found that when treatment started early, patients were more likely to reach normal CD4+ T cells levels. CD4+ T cells help protect the body from infections. The higher the CD4 count, the better the immune system is at fighting off infections.

"While the practice has been to generally defer ART till CD4+ counts decline to less than 500 cells per cubic millimeter, our results suggest that any delay in ART even in people maintaining higher levels of CD4+ counts impairs their ability to subsequently normalize CD4+ T-cell counts," Dr. Ahuja said according to Medical Xpress.

Based from the study's findings, the researchers stressed the importance of screening for the virus and treating it as soon as possible.

The study, "Influence of the timing of antiretroviral therapy on the potential for normalization of immune status in human immunodeficiency virus 1-infected individuals," was published in the JAMA Internal Medicine.

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