Researchers then compared HAART outcomes in those who chose to be treated within the weeks of exposure to those with chronic infection. They discovered that newly infected patients had fewer signs of inflammation at the beginning of the study and experienced greater recovery of the gut mucosal immune system function by the end of it.
Dandekar and her colleagues are currently following additional patients being treated with HAART. Unpublished data on these patients supports the current findings, said Thomas Prindiville, a gastroenterology professor at UC Davis and a co-author of the study.
"What we continue to see is that restoration of immune function is more likely when treatment is started early," said Prindiville. "Starting HAART before T-cell counts fall below 350 cells per cubic milliliter, would preserve immune function and hasten its full recovery."
The team of physicians and researchers plan to keep testing ways of improving the efficacy of antiretroviral therapy in gut-associated lymphoid tissue. These include treating gut inflammation, starting treatment earlier and using gut biopsies to monitor treatment success.
"If we are able to restore the gut's immune response, the patient will be more likely to clear the virus," Prindiville said. "You can't treat any infectious disease without the help of the immune system."