Antiretroviral therapies are efficient at lowering HIV levels in the blood. They suppress these levels enough that the virus can become virtually undetectable, making it hard to cure. While this provides the patient with a measure of health, and also slows disease progression, it is not enough to completely eradicate the virus from the body. Why is this the case? What is the key to eliminating the tenacious invader completely so as to have a cure?

Progress Towards a Cure

Study after study continues to show that antiretroviral therapy alone cannot completely rid the body of HIV. It is true that low viral levels within the blood can prove lifesaving, but HIV finds a way to hide, replicate, and even thrive. Attempting to kill off the virus in these areas is the key to completely wiping it out. Blood levels can be kept low because the drugs can effectively work within the vascular network. Researchers are finding that stores of HIV are located within the lymphatic system, specifically in lymph nodes and like tissues.

This presents challenges for healthcare. One, it is difficult for pharmaceuticals to reach the specific tissues where the virus replicates. It is rare for medications to filter into these lymph nodes. Also, there is the matter of viral mutation. As HIV patients increase in numbers, changes in the disease’s resistance to drugs begins to appear.

The good news is that usually it is the non-resistant form of the virus that hides and replicates. Once it releases into the blood, the drug therapies are still effective. Also, when researchers exposed the infected tissues to the drugs, the infection could be cleared. However, depending on the type and concentration of the drug therapy, the amount of drug-resistant HIV can fluctuate, making things complicated.

Further investigation is underway about how to infiltrate lymphatic tissue in order to remove stores of HIV. Researchers are convinced that once they gain a better understanding of how to reach these areas—combined with antiretroviral therapies—a cure for HIV will be at hand. Until then, daily treatment is the only way to keep the disease from progressing.