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Withholding HIV Treatment Debated

Drug 'holidays' could help or hurt patients

The rate of HIV infection has begun rising again in a number of cities in the developed world. Health authorities say that many young people have little fear of infection because AIDS is being perceived as a treatable illness. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has even warned makers of AIDS drugs to halt upbeat ads that show buffed models. Such ads conceal the serious side effects of treatment, the agency says.

This is a bad time to ignore warnings about safe sex and needle sharing. British researchers say that more than one-fourth of those newly infected have drug-resistant strains of HIV, the Electronic Telegraph reports.

The emergence of drug-resistant HIV has prompted some doctors to propose withholding treatment for drug addicts or other patients until completion of rehabilitation programs when they're better able to comply with the complicated treatment regimen, which often means taking dozens of pills each day at specific times. Strict compliance with treatment is considered essential because in some cases, skipping HIV medication for even a single day can make the virus even more resistant to therapy.

Critics of this idea say that doctors shouldn't use a double standard for treating AIDS patients. Rabbi David Horowitz, president of Akron (Ohio) Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, says it's equivalent to a physician withholding a patient's blood pressure medicine if he doesn't lose weight. A feature from the Akron Beacon Journal describes the controversy.

Researchers don't all agree that HIV treatment can't be interrupted. BBC News describes experiments in monkeys showing that treatment "holidays" might be able to stimulate the immune system and beat back the virus.

That won't cure HIV, however. Recent research indicates that the virus can hide out for years and resurface any time later.

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