ART involves taking a combination of HIV medicines every day. It prevents HIV from multiplying and destroying your infection-fighting CD4 cells. ART can’t cure HIV, but it can help you live a longer, healthier life and reduce your risk of HIV transmission.
The lower your viral load, the better. The aim is to have an undetectable viral load.
What is a normal CD 4 Count? A normal CD 4 count is from 500 to 1,500 cells per cubic millimeter of blood.
When the viral load in your blood is lowered by ART, it allows the CD 4 cells to reproduce and increase in number. The higher your CD 4 count, the better able you are to fight HIV and other infections.
ART is recommended for everyone with HIV, but the urgency to start ART is greater in people with low or rapidly falling CD 4 counts. A falling CD 4 count indicates that HIV is advancing and damaging your immune system. HIV treatment is now recommended to commence immediately when a person tests positive for the HIV virus, as stated by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the 2016 guidelines. A CD 4 count of less than 200 usually indicates the onset of AIDS.
After you start ART, your HIV care provider will use your CD 4 count as one way to check how well your medication is working to monitor the effectiveness of your HIV regimen. Your HIV care provider will also monitor your CD 4 count to determine whether it has fallen to a level at which you might be at risk for certain opportunistic infections. In that case, your HIV care provider may prescribe some additional medications to prevent other infections.
Your HIV care provider will order a CD 4 count at your first visit after you are diagnosed in order to establish a baseline level.
After that we recommend that your HIV care provider order a CD 4 test every 3 to 6 months when you are starting ART to see how well you are responding to treatment. Depending on your health status, your HIV care provider may switch to every 6 to 12 months once treatment has increased your CD 4 levels to higher levels and your viral load is suppressed. If your CD 4 count reaches normal levels and your viral load remains suppressed, your HIV care provider may not check your CD 4 count unless there is a change in your health or viral load.
Your CD 4 count can vary from day to day. It can also vary depending on the time of day your blood is drawn and on whether you have other infections or illnesses, like the flu or sexually transmitted infections (STI’s). The trend of your CD 4 count (whether it’s rising or falling) over time is what’s really important—not an individual test result.
Do all drugs have side effects?
- Even when drugs are very effective at treating a health problem, they sometimes affect other parts of your body.
- This other activity is called a side effect or “adverse event” – or referred to as drug toxicity.
- Every drug is likely to have some side effects for some people, even if this is very rare. In most cases side effects are mild and easy to manage.
- Sometimes they are so mild that they are not noticed. Side effects to ART usually only affects a small proportion of people.
- Serious side effects to current ART, although possible, are not common.
How common are side effects with HIV drugs?
Most people starting HIV treatment report one or more side effects. Sometimes this is because when we start a treatment we are more sensitive to anything that happens, even though it might not be a side effect.
People in studies taking a placebo often report high rates of side effects.
Not everyone taking drugs will have the same effects. What is important is how they affect you and what you can do about them.
Most HIV drugs have a low risk of serious side effects.
The word ”symptom” is usually used for any change in how you feel that you could report to your doctor. For example, feeling tired, or having diarrhoea are both symptoms that could be side effects. The symptoms of many common side effects are similar to symptoms of illnesses. Your doctor needs to know about every symptom in order to be able to decide whether it is caused by treatment (a side effect) or a different illness.
You can do a self-test quiz – the STD Quiz, to learn more about your risk of contracting a STD.
For help, support, counselling or more information, you may also chat to a facilitator on LIVE CHAT. The service is free and you may stay anonymous.
HIV Online Support Group