A major international study says HIV patients should not delay seeking treatment as starting medication on diagnosis of the infection helped keep people healthy longer (NIH.
People who started anti-AIDS drugs while their immune system was strong were much less likely to develop AIDS or other serious illnesses than if they waited until blood tests showed their immune system had started to weaken, according to Wednesday's announcement of the US National Institutes of Health.
Though the findings were preliminary, the NIH, however found them so compelling that it stopped the study a year early, so that all the participants could receive medication as researchers continued to track their health.
"The sooner the better," said Dr Anthony Fauci, director of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which funded the work.
The findings support current US guidelines that already recommend early treatment for HIV, but could alter care recommendations in other countries.
HIV might not trigger symptoms for years, raising the question as to how soon following diagnosis patients should start taking expensive medications that might cause side effects.
Earlier studies have shown that treatment dramatically lowered the chances that someone with HIV could spread the virus to a sexual partner. However, there was less evidence that the HIV patient's own health would benefit.
Meanwhile, federal health official said Wednesday, they were halting the largest clinical trial of early treatment since its benefits were already so clear and pronounced.
The trial known as START, for Strategic Timing of Antiretroviral Treatment was stopped over a year early as preliminary data showed that those put on treatment immediately had a 53-per cent lower chance of dying prematurely or having an AIDS-related event than those who got drugs later.
According to the officials, the study provided strong evidence that putting more people on treatment and doing it earlier would save more lives. An estimated 35 million people were infected with HIV worldwide; about 13 million were receiving treatment in early 2014.
''This is another incentive to seek out testing and start therapy early, because you will benefit, said Fauci.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended starting treatment immediately, according to data recently released, only about 30 per cent of all US citizens with HIV were on the drugs and taking them often enough to suppress the virus.