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Treatments Help Turn AIDS Into Manageable Disease

Nearly 59,000 people in Germany are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Though AIDS remains an incurable disease, developments have made living with it a bit easier for those infected.

Woman's hands holding red ribbon

World AIDS Day is celebrated annually on Dec. 1

In the 14 years that Carlos Stemmerich has been a medications consultant at AIDS-Hilfe in Cologne, he said he has witnessed several advances in the treatment of people infected with the HIV virus. Though it remains a fatal disease without a cure, AIDS patients are living longer with the virus thanks to new therapies.

"We've arrived at a point that five years ago we never would have guessed we could get to," said Stemmerich.

Though no single medication has as been found to work on its own against the virus, more and more medications are being combined to curb the virus early on, like Maraviroc, a drug that prevents cells from being penetrated by the HIV virus. The new drug cocktails also have fewer side effects, making treatment easier on patients.

Pharmacist standing behind rows of pill bottles

Many medications are helping prolong patients' lives

New side effect: A positive outlook

"In the past, there were so many unbelievable complications with treatment," said Stemmerich.

"Some medicines could only be taken with fatty foods, others only on a low-fat diet. And then you had to know how long to wait between each pill."

The life expectancy of a person living with HIV in developed countries has increased due to the medical advancements. Some scientists have suggested that a person infected with the virus in 2008 at the age of 30 has the possibility of living as long as healthy counterparts, as long as therapy for the illness begins in a timely manner.

Such medical developments, and the improved quality of life they represent, have helped HIV patients adopt a healthier diet and try to relax, said Stemmerich.

"There's been a change in thinking because people now know that they can grow old with the disease and that they need to take the same precautions in life as those who are HIV-negative."

Be wary of talk of quick cures

Headshot of a doctor seated behind a bouquet of flowers

Dr. Gero Hütter's claim to have cured AIDS in a patient has garnered much interest recently

While the cure for HIV is still not in sight, the propagation of the virus has been slowed so that traces of it can barely be found in the bloodstream, though the virus can remain in other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes.

The media tends to focus on positive developments and possible cures, including the case of the Leukemia patient in Berlin whose HIV disappeared after cancer treatment included the introduction of stem cells from another person that hindered the entry of the virus, Stemmerich said.

"We've had a lot of patients asking after this therapy," Stemmerich added. "They want to know how much it costs, if their insurance will pay for it."

That singular case, however, distracts from standard treatment, something that Stemmerich warned against ending.

Condoms only reliable means of prevention

Nurse administering shot in woman's arm

A vaccine against HIV remains at least 10 years away, Stemmerich said

Hopes of a vaccine against HIV, which came to the fore in recent years, have largely been dashed.

"People continue to ask about the vaccine, if there's a time in sight when they no longer have to use a condom," said Stemmerich. "Unfortunately, we have to tell them that there won't be any immunization available, at least not in the next decade.

"Even if something promising were to be discovered today, it would still take at least 10 years before animal research were completed and the first trials on humans could begin," Stemmerich added. "That's why we have to tell everyone, the only reliable protection against getting HIV is to use a condom."

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