Department of STD, AIDS and Viral Hepatitis

Department of STD, AIDS and Viral Hepatitis

Portal about AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and viral hepatitis

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What are antiretroviral drugs?

Antiretroviral drugs first appeared in the 1980s with the aim of stopping HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, from multiplying in the body. They do not kill HIV, but they do help to prevent the weakening of the immune system. That is why their use is fundamental for increasing the life expectancy and quality of life of people with AIDS.

Ever since 1996, Brazil has provided the AIDS medication free of charge to all those who need treatment. According to Ministry of Health data, some 200,000 people regularly receive medication to treat the disease. There are currently 19 antiretroviral drugs divided into five types.

Classes of antiretroviral drugs

Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors – act on the reverse transcriptase enzyme, incorporating themselves into the DNA chain the virus creates. They terminate the chain and thus prevent the virus from reproducing itself. Drugs in this class include: Zidovudine, Abacavir, Didanosine, Stavudine, Lamivudine and Tenofovir.

Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors – directly block the action of the enzyme and the multiplication of the virus. Drugs in this class include: Efavirenz, Nevirapine and Etravirine.

Protease Inhibitors – act on the protease enzyme, blocking its action and preventing the production of new copies of HIV infected cells. Drugs in this class include: Amprenavir, Atazanavir, Darunavir, Indinavir, Lopinavir/r, Nelfinavir, Ritonavir and Saquinavir.

Fusion inhibitors – prevent HIV from entering healthy CD4 cells, so that it cannot reproduce itself. Drugs in this class: Enfuvirtide.

Integrase Inhibitors – block the activity of the integrase enzyme, which incorporates HIV’s DNA into human DNA (the genetic code of the cell). In this way it inhibits the replication of the virus and its ability to infect new cells. Drugs in this class: Raltegravir.

In order to fight HIV, a combination of at least three antiretroviral (ARV) drugs needs to be used, two of which must be of different classes. They can be combined into a single tablet. ARV treatment is complex, requires medical follow-up to assess the body’s adaptation to treatment, its side effects and possible difficulties in correctly following the doctor’s recommendations, i.e. adhering to the treatment. For this reason it is fundamental to dialogue with the healthcare team, understand the entire treatment regimen and make sure any questions you may have are answered.


See also
Where and how AVR treatment can be obtained
Medical follow-up
The importance of treatment adherence


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