WEDNESDAY, March 28, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Early, 24-week treatment for people newly infected with HIV can delay the need at a later date to start long-term treatment, according to a new study.
The study included 168 newly infected HIV patients who were randomly selected to receive no treatment, 24 weeks of treatment with combined antiretroviral drugs or 60 weeks of the drugs.
Compared to those who received no treatment, patients who received early antiretroviral drugs had a lower viral set point, which is the stable point reached in the amount of HIV in the blood after the immune system begins to make antibodies to fight the virus.
The researchers also found that patients who received no early treatment started long-term antiretroviral therapy within 0.7 years, compared with 3 years for those who received 24 weeks of early therapy and 1.8 years for those who received 60 weeks of early therapy.
The study appeared March 27 in the journal PLoS Medicine.
"This randomized study demonstrates a clear clinical benefit of temporary [antiretroviral therapy] initiated during [primary HIV infection]. Early [therapy] transiently lowered the viral set point and deferred the need for restart of [antiretroviral therapy] during chronic HIV infection," wrote Marlous Grijsen at the Academic Medical Center of the University of Amsterdam and colleagues.
"Although extended follow-up studies are needed to evaluate the long-term benefits of such early treatment, starting [antiretroviral therapy] when the patient is ready to do so seems the most reasonable advice for patients with [primary HIV Infection]," they concluded in a journal news release.
Currently, treatment for people with HIV, the AIDS-causing virus, is often delayed until their CD4 count -- a measure of immune-system strength -- falls below a certain level (350) or they develop symptoms.
The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more about HIV treatment.