HIV life expectancy ‘near normal’ thanks to new drugs

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Young people on the latest HIV drugs now have near-normal life expectancy because of improvements in treatments, a study in The Lancet suggests.

Twenty-year-olds who started antiretroviral therapy in 2010 are projected to live 10 years longer than those first using it in 1996, it found.

Doctors say that starting treatment early is crucial to achieve a long and healthy life.

Charities say there are still too many people unaware they have the virus.

The study authors, from the University of Bristol, said the extraordinary success of HIV treatments was a result of newer drugs having fewer side effects and being better at preventing the virus from replicating in the body.

It is also more difficult for the virus to build up a resistance to the most recent drugs.

Improved screening and prevention programmes and better treatment of health problems caused by HIV are thought to have helped, too.

But many people with HIV still do not live as long as expected, especially those infected through injecting drugs.

Antiretroviral therapy involves a combination of three or more drugs which block the normal progress of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).

They have been called “one of the greatest public health success stories of the past 40 years”.

Drugs ‘do work’

Jimmy Isaacs, 28, discovered he had been infected with HIV by a former partner nearly three years ago.

He takes three drugs once a day at 18:00 and will continue to do so for the rest of his life.

“My health is absolutely fine. I’m eating healthily and drinking healthily,” he said.

“It doesn’t impact on my job and hasn’t impacted on my social life either.”

Although it took two changes of medication to find the right combination for him, he says he now has no side effects at all.

“I had heard a lot of bad stories about the drugs back in the ’90s – but when I did some research, I realised the drugs had completely changed.”

Not all his employers have been supportive since his diagnosis and he says that is down to ignorance.

His current employer has given him time off to tour the country and speak to students and school pupils about HIV prevention and treatment.

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