We need to understand what HIV does in your body, before we can understand how we control it.
Your body has an immune system, which helps protect you from infections and illnesses. Your immune system is made up of lots of cells which fight off infection by other viruses, bacteria and fungi. This stops you becoming unwell.
These necessary fighting cells have CD4 proteins on the outside. The HIV virus attacks and infects the fighting cells, by using the CD4 protein to enter them. The HIV virus then makes multiple copies of itself inside the fighting cell. This kills the fighting cell in the end, and copies of the HIV virus are released into the blood. These go and infect and kill more of your fighting cells, and so on.
So, an untreated person with HIV may have a high viral load and a low CD4 count. If the immune system breaks down, AIDS can develop. Regular blood tests will let you know if your medication is working. Click the picture to see an animation of the HIV life cycle.
In the UK, it is a goal of therapy for everyone to have a viral load under 50, an undetectable viral load. This doesn’t mean there is no HIV in your body (remember there isn’t a cure for HIV yet). It means there are too few viruses to be counted.
Next section: » Aims of treatment