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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Hope In Struggle For AIDS Treatment

LOS ANGELES -- For the first time in a long time, there is real hope in the world of AIDS.

It's hope born of new drugs against the disease, of new tests for measuring how the drugs are working, and of new understanding of the course of infection with the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS.

The Third Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, held here last week, may one day be viewed as a moment when several insights about HIV infection took hold.

Only a few of those insights were new in the strictest sense. Many had been suggested by experiments before. But several findings from the past 18 months were supported by new research. Among them are:

?Treating HIV infection with a combination of antiviral drugs is more successful than treating it with just one drug.

?The amount of virus in the bloodstream is a better predictor of an infected person's future health than any previous test used to make a prognosis.

?There are a few drugs that can completely suppress growth of the virus at least in some patients. This does not constitute a cure, but it raises the possibility that HIV's destruction of the immune system could be halted.

?Women with small amounts of virus in their blood are less likely to transmit HIV to their infants. Researchers have known for two years that an infected woman's use of the drug AZT can lower her baby's chance of acquiring the virus. The new finding suggests the mother-to-infant route of transmission can be further controlled.

?Lowering the amount of virus in the bloodstream helps patients. It makes them less likely to develop the unusual infections that are the hallmarks of AIDS.

Advances in recent years have allowed laboratories to count virus in the bloodstream relatively cheaply. That has led to an increasing focus on the characteristics of the disease and not just on the immune-system damage.