(RxWiki News) More Americans than ever before are benefiting from lifesaving HIV treatment. But anti-HIV drugs might not be helping as many people as previously believed.
HIV drugs are intended to control and suppress the virus in a patient's body, but not everyone takes the pills correctly to receive the full benefit. The percentage of HIV patients who have controlled the virus has shot up dramatically over the past decade.
A new study has found that more patients than expected have uncontrolled infections, and may be putting others at risk.
"Follow your doctor's recommendations to benefit from HIV drugs."
The study was conducted by team of researchers led by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The senior author was Dr. Kelly Gebo, an associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University.
The study looked at over 30,000 patients who were being treated by clinics across America. Between 2001 and 2010, the percentage of patients who sustained undetectable levels of HIV in their system shot up from 45 percent to 72 percent.
But that finding is lower than previous figures. Other studies have reported 77 percent to 87 percent for the percentage of patients with suppressed viruses.
Part of the reason for that may be that the previous studies were based on one-time measurements of blood, rather than continued surveillance, the researchers pointed out.
There's good news in the larger picture. Newer drugs and combination pills have improved the safety and efficacy of the typical treatment, and decreased side effects have made it more likely that a patient will adhere to the daily regimen.
Access to HIV/AIDS care may also be responsible for the significant increase of viral suppression in the past years.
But unfortunately, it's not uncommon for patients to fail to adhere to their care plan. This is especially a problem among younger patients, injection drug users, African Americans, and people without insurance.
This population may stop taking their medications for various reasons – for example, if they find themselves without access to care, or if drug addiction keeps them from focusing on treatment. Older patients and people with private insurance generally had better adherence.
Public health experts are concerned about this issue because people who go on and off medication can become resistant to their drugs, and transmit the virus to others.
The authors of the study emphasize that much progress has been made over the past decade. But they warn that more resources and technology are required to ensure access to HIV treatment and make sure that every patient receives the full benefit of HIV drugs.
The study was published in JAMA in July 2012, in conjunction with the 2012 International AIDS conference in Washington DC.