WASHINGTON - Early antiretroviral treatment after diagnosis of HIV infection significantly reduces the likelihood of getting AIDS or other serious illnesses, according to results from a large international clinical trial published Wednesday.
The study was presented a year earlier than planned after preliminary data showed that people who received treatment from diagnosis were 53 per cent less likely to die or develop a serious illness such as AIDS compared to a control group where treatment began later when the immune system is weakened.
Researchers said this data combined with previous studies showing that antiretroviral drugs help prevent HIV transmission to healthy sexual partners indicate that such treatment is beneficial for everyone diagnosed with the virus.
"We now have clear-cut proof that it is of significantly greater health benefit to an HIV-infected person to start antiretroviral therapy sooner rather than later," said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
"Moreover, early therapy conveys a double benefit, not only improving the health of individuals but at the same time, by lowering their viral load, reducing the risk they will transmit HIV to others," he said in a statement.
The study began in 2011 in 35 countries with 4,684 HIV-infected men and women over the age of 18.
An estimated 35 million people are infected with HIV worldwide, while only 13 million people get treatment, according to the latest figures.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention already recommends starting antiretroviral after HIV diagnosis.