HIV was once considered a death sentence, but now thanks to new innovations in treatment and medications, HIV positive individuals have near-normal life expectancies. This is the conclusion of a recent study from the University of Bristol, which gives hope that, at least until we figure out how to cure the virus, we can count on being able to control it.

The study, published online in The Lancet, found that young people living with HIV who started their antiretroviral therapy in 2010 are projected to live 10 years longer than those who first started using it in 1996, The BBC reported. This success is based on newer drugs having fewer side effects and being more efficient at preventing HIV from replicating in the body. The study also revealed that starting treatment early after initial infection was important to ensuring a long healthy life. This is especially important as many HIV positive individuals are still unaware of their infection status.

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The study combined data from 18 European and North American HIV positive groups who were participating in The Antiretroviral Therapy Cohort Collaboration (ART-CC). These individuals were all aged 16 or older, and had started treatment with three or more antiretroviral drugs between 1996 and 2010. In total, the study included information from 88,504 HIV positive individuals. Results showed that people who started treatment from 2008 to 2010 were less likely to die, compared to those who started their regime between 1996 and 2009. Ultimately, the expected age of an HIV positive patient who started antiretroviral treatment at age 20 after the the year 2008 was 78, an age nearly on par with the general public, The BBC reported.

According to, HIV specifically attacks the immune system by targeting a type of immune cell called CD4 cells. These cells work to fight off germs and infections, and HIV reduces the number of them in your body, which hinders a person’s ability to fight off new infections. This is why, in the case of HIV patients, it's not the initial HIV infection that may lead to their compromised health, but rather subsequent infections that have the ability to attack the body undeterred by the immune system. AVERT reports that Antiretroviral treatment is a way to keep the levels of HIV in the body down low enough to let the immune system recover from the virus’ effect and stay strong.

While these drugs help to keep HIV patients strong and healthy, it does not prevent them from passing on the virus to someone else. In addition, the drugs have to be taken everyday for a patient's entire life in order or them to have their effect.

Historically, these drugs have had a number of unpleasant side effects. According to Healthline, these may include: appetite loss, lipodystrophy (changes in the distribution of body fat), diarrhea, fatigue, and mood changes such as depression and anxiety. As mentioned in the study, newer drugs are less likely to have adverse side effects, thus improving their effectiveness at keeping viral levels low.

Source: Trickey A, et al. Survival of HIV-positive patients starting antiretroviral therapy between 1996 and 2013: a collaborative analysis of cohort studies. The Lancet . 2017

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HIV Cure Research 2017: Successful Antibody Trial Brings Us Closer To Destroying Virus, And Creating Vaccine

HIV Breakthrough 2017: Treatment May Replace Need For Daily ART Medications, Leaves 5 Patients With Undetectable Virus Levels