New York City health officials are proposing that anyone living with HIV should receive treatment as soon as they are diagnosed.

City officials say that the aggressive move has been shown to prolong life and to stop the spread of the disease.

Initially, the standard practice was to have patients wait until their immune system gradually starts to deteriorate to start the pill regimen, a treatment that can cost up to $15,000 annually.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley says recent studies demonstrate that early treatment combined with education and testing show promising results, and appears to be a hopeful strategy for reversing the epidemic.

"I'm more optimistic now than I've ever been about this epidemic that we can drive our new rates down to zero or close to it — eventually. I don't know how soon. But I'm very optimistic of the direction that it's going to take the epidemic to," Farley told the Associated Press Wednesday.

New York City, compared to any other U.S. city, houses the largest population of people living with HIV with over 110,000 infected.

The new recommendations could help 3,000 people get medication, said city health officials. Currently about 66,000 New Yorkers are being effectively treated with AIDS drugs, they said, and that they are unsure about the number of people that will eventually need medications.

"The New York City health department is a little bit ahead of the curve. In my opinion, the rest of the country will follow and I think it will be pretty quick," said Dr. Michael Saag, the past chairman of the HIV Medicine Association.

The costly pills for treatment have an array of side effects, from nausea to liver damage, and can cause drug resistance among patients who are unwilling to take them at their recommended dose.

"There will be some increasing costs over the short term," said Farley. "But over the long term, it's absolutely the right thing for the epidemic."

"What we're doing here is we're making a really clear and unequivocal statement that we think this is good for the health of the patient, good for the health of the entire population, good for the response to the epidemic," Farley said.