THURSDAY, May 12 (HealthDay News) -- People with HIV can reduce the risk of infecting their sex partners by more than 90 percent if they start treatment with antiretroviral drugs when their immune system is still relatively healthy, researchers announced Thursday.
The study, which included 1,763 mostly heterosexual couples from nine countries, was supposed to last until 2015, but the results were released early because of the significance of the findings. The research confirmed a belief held by many scientists and physicians -- that starting drug therapy early can help to limit rates of transmission of the virus that causes AIDS.
"We set out to prove that if you took earlier therapy you could benefit your own health and you could prevent the transmission of HIV," said lead researcher Dr. Myron Cohen, director of the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"Both of those hypotheses were realized," he said.
The study, which started in 2005, randomly assigned the couples to two treatment groups: In the first group the HIV-infected individual began taking a combination of three antiretroviral drugs immediately. In the second group, the HIV-positive person delayed drug therapy until their CD4 T-cell count -- a blood test that measures immune system health -- either dropped below 250 or an AIDS-related illness (such as pneumocystis pneumonia) set in.
Both groups also received HIV care, which included counseling on safe sex, free condoms, treatment for sexually transmitted infections, regular HIV testing and evaluation, and treatment for any HIV-related complications.
The trial was conducted at 13 sites in nine countries including the United States, Botswana, Brazil, India, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Thailand and Zimbabwe.
In looking over the preliminary findings, the data and safety monitor
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