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Highly Active Antiretroviral therapy (HAART) Medications to Treat HIV

Highly Active Antiretroviral therapy (HAART) Medications to Treat HIV

As of March, 2019, it is estimated that approximately 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What are HIV and AIDS?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus.  It is a virus the body cannot fight, even with treatment, so once it is acquired it is for life.   Without treatment, this virus may lead to AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

Your immune system’s white blood cells work constantly to fight off infections and disease.  The HIV virus targets and attacks a type of white blood cells called T cells or CD4 cells. When the number of T cells in your body is reduced you are less able to fight infections and infection-related cancers.  When the patient’s body can no longer fight off these infections, called opportunistic infections, patient has AIDS.

There are three stages of HIV infection:

Stage 1: Acute HIV infection

Some people develop flu-like symptoms, including a sore throat, rash, swollen glands, muscle pains and headache within 2-4 weeks after being infected with HIV.  This response to the HIV infection by the body is called “acute retroviral syndrome” (ARS).  During this stage the virus is rapidly reproducing, using the CD4 cells to replicate while it destroys them at the same time.   It is important to note that it is at this stage when the risk of HIV transmission is very high because of the high level of HIV in the bloodstream. Starting treatment at this stage is most beneficial.

Stage 2: Clinical Latency Stage

During this stage, also known as asymptomatic HIV infection or chronic HIV infection stage, the HIV virus is reproducing very slowly and the patient may not feel any symptoms.  Patients taking ART at this stage may never develop AIDS because the treatment may keep the virus level very low.  Patients not taking treatment usually may stay in this clinical latency stage for an average of 10 years.  Still, some patients may progress faster or slower than others.

Stage 3: AIDS

When the immune system becomes weakened, the body is then vulnerable to the opportunistic infections.  Regardless of CD4 count, if you develop more than one opportunistic illness you have progressed to AIDS.

Healthy immune system: CD4 counts are between 500-1,600 cells/mm3.

AIDS: CD4 counts are below 200 cells/mm3

Sadly, no cure for HIV/AIDS exists, however there are medications that can control HIV.  The medication used is called antiretroviral therapy (ART).  Modern medicine has been truly remarkable in the development of these medications.  Today someone with HIV who is treated and who takes their medication on a regular basis before the disease is too far advanced may actually live a long life.

HAART – HIV Treatment Overview

Today, highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) is the standard of treatment for HIV infection. HAART refers to any HIV treatment that uses a combination of two or more drugs.  It was introduced back in 1996 as a response to poor success rates in patients taking only one HIV medication at a time. HIV positive patients take HAART, also called an HIV treatment regime, daily.   

The goals of HAART include

  • Stopping the virus from multiplying in the blood
  • Reduction of the viral load, which is the number of HIV copies in the blood
  • Increase in the number of CD4 cells (T cells) to improve immune system function
  • Prevention of HIV transmission
  • Reduction in the severity of complications and increased survival rates
  • Delaying or preventing disease progression to stage 3, or AIDS

For more information on HIV treatment visit this Understanding HIV/AIDS fact sheet:

ART cannot cure HIV, but the medicines can help people who have HIV live healthier and longer lives than ever before, and also help reduce the risk of transmission.

The following ART medications are available on the website:

Additional resources:


If you have questions about any of these prescription medications or any other medication, please contact our team at Canada Online Health by calling toll free 1-800-399-DRUG (3784). One of our patient representatives will be happy to assist you or transfer you to a licensed Canadian pharmacist for a free consultation.

This article contains medical information provided to help you better understand this particular medical condition or process, and may contain information about medication often used as part of a treatment plan prescribed by a doctor.  It is not intended to be used as either a diagnosis or recommendation for treatment of your particular medical situation.  If you are unwell, concerned about your physical or mental state, or are experiencing symptoms you should speak with your doctor or primary health care provider. If you are in medical distress please contact emergency services (such as 911).

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