HIV Treatment

HIV Treatment: The Basics

  • Key Points

    • The treatment for HIV is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART involves taking a combination of HIV medicines (called an HIV treatment regimen) every day.
    • ART is recommended for everyone who has HIV. People with HIV should start taking HIV medicines as soon as possible. ART cannot cure HIV, but HIV medicines help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. ART also reduces the risk of HIV transmission.
    • A main goal of HIV treatment is to reduce a person’s viral load to an undetectable level. An undetectable viral load means that the level of HIV in the blood is too low to be detected by a viral load test. People with HIV who maintain an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative partners through sex.
  • What is the treatment for HIV?

    The treatment for HIV is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART involves taking a combination of HIV medicines (called an HIV treatment regimen) every day.

    ART is recommended for everyone who has HIV. ART cannot cure HIV, but HIV medicines help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. ART also reduces the risk of HIV transmission.

  • How do HIV medicines work?

    HIV attacks and destroys the infection-fighting CD4 cells (CD4 T lymphocyte) of the immune system. Loss of CD4 cells makes it hard for the body to fight off infections and certain HIV-related cancers.

    HIV medicines prevent HIV from multiplying (making copies of itself), which reduces the amount of HIV in the body (called the viral load). Having less HIV in the body gives the immune system a chance to recover and produce more CD4 cells. Even though there is still some HIV in the body, the immune system is strong enough to fight off infections and certain HIV-related cancers.

    By reducing the amount of HIV in the body, HIV medicines also reduce the risk of HIV transmission. A main goal of HIV treatment is to reduce a person’s viral load to an undetectable level. An undetectable viral load means that the level of HIV in the blood is too low to be detected by a viral load test. People with HIV who maintain an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative partners through sex.

  • When is it time to start taking HIV medicines?

    People with HIV should start taking HIV medicines as soon as possible after an HIV diagnosis. It is especially important for people with AIDS-defining conditions or early HIV infection to start HIV medicines right away. (Early HIV infection is the period up to 6 months after infection with HIV.)

    Women with HIV who become pregnant and are not already taking HIV medicines should also start taking HIV medicines as soon as possible.

  • What HIV medicines are included in an HIV treatment regimen?

    There are many HIV medicines available for HIV treatment regimens. The HIV medicines are grouped into seven drug classes according to how they fight HIV.

    The choice of an HIV treatment regimen depends on a person's individual needs. When choosing an HIV treatment regimen, people with HIV and their health care providers consider many factors, including possible side effects of HIV medicines and potential drug interactions.

    People living with HIV work with a health care provider to choose an HIV regimen. HIV medicines are grouped into seven drug classes according to how they fight HIV: NNRTIs, NRTIs, PIs, Fusion Inhibitors, CCR5 Antagonists, INSTIs, and Post-Attachment Inhibitors.

  • What should people know about taking HIV medicines?

    Taking HIV medicines keeps people with HIV healthy and prevents HIV transmission. Taking HIV medicines every day and exactly as prescribed (called medication adherence) also reduces the risk of drug resistance.

    But sometimes, HIV medicines can cause side effects. Most side effects from HIV medicines are manageable, but a few can be serious. Overall, the benefits of HIV medicines far outweigh the risk of side effects. In addition, newer HIV medicines cause fewer side effects than medicines used in the past. As HIV treatment continues to improve, people are less likely to have side effects from their HIV medicines.

    HIV medicines can interact with other HIV medicines in an HIV treatment regimen or with other medicines a person is taking. Health care providers carefully consider potential drug interactions before recommending an HIV treatment regimen.

  • This fact sheet is based on information from the following sources:

    From the Department of Health and Human Services:

    From the Department of Veterans Affairs:

    From the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases:

    Also see the HIV Source collection of HIV links and resources.

Just Diagnosed: Next Steps After Testing Positive for HIV

  • Key Points

    • Testing positive for HIV often leaves a person overwhelmed with questions and concerns. It is important to remember that HIV can be treated effectively with HIV medicines. HIV medicines help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives and reduce the risk of HIV transmission.
    • The first step after testing positive for HIV is to see a health care provider, even if you do not feel sick. Prompt medical care and treatment with HIV medicines as soon as possible is the best way to stay healthy.
    • After testing positive for HIV, a person’s first visit with a health care provider includes a review of the person’s health and medical history, a physical exam, and several lab tests.
  • What is the next step after testing positive for HIV?

    Testing positive for HIV often leaves a person overwhelmed with questions and concerns. It is important to remember that HIV can be treated effectively with HIV medicines. Treatment with HIV medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) is recommended for everyone with HIV. HIV medicines help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives and reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

    The first step after testing positive for HIV is to see a health care provider, even if you do not feel sick. Prompt medical care and treatment with HIV medicines as soon as possible is the best way to stay healthy.

  • After testing positive for HIV, what can a person expect during their first visit with a health care provider?

    After testing positive for HIV, a person’s first visit with a health care provider includes a review of the person’s health and medical history, a physical exam, and several lab tests. The health care provider also explains the benefits of HIV treatment and discusses ways to reduce the risk of passing HIV to others.

    The information collected during a person’s initial visit is used to make decisions about HIV treatment.

  • Which lab tests are used to make decisions about HIV treatment?

    A health care provider reviews a person’s lab test results to:

    • Determine how far the person’s HIV infection has advanced (called HIV progression)
    • Decide which HIV medicines to recommend

    The following lab tests are used to make decisions about HIV treatment.

    CD4 count

    A CD4 count measures the number of CD4 cells in a sample of blood. CD4 cells are infection-fighting cells of the immune system. As HIV advances, a person’s CD4 count drops, which indicates increasing damage to the immune system. Treatment with HIV medicines prevents HIV from destroying CD4 cells.

    Viral load

    A viral load test measures how much virus is in the blood (HIV viral load). As HIV progresses to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a person’s viral load increases. HIV medicines prevent HIV from multiplying, which reduces a person’s viral load. A goal of HIV treatment is to keep a person’s viral load so low that the virus cannot be detected by a viral load test. This is known as having an undetectable viral load.

    Once HIV treatment is started, the CD4 count and viral load are used to monitor whether the HIV medicines are controlling a person’s HIV.

    Drug-resistance testing

    Health care providers consider many factors when recommending HIV medicines, including a person’s drug-resistance test results. Drug-resistance testing identifies which, if any, HIV medicines will not be effective against a person’s strain of HIV. The HIVinfo infographic What do my lab results mean? has more information about tests used to monitor HIV infection and treatment.

  • After testing positive for HIV, how soon do people start taking HIV medicines?

    People with HIV should start taking HIV medicines as soon as possible after their HIV is diagnosed. However, before starting treatment, people with HIV must be prepared to take HIV medicines every day for the rest of their lives.

    Issues, such as lack of health insurance or an inability to pay for HIV medicines, can make it hard to take HIV medicines consistently. Health care providers can recommend resources to help people deal with any issues before they start taking HIV medicines.

  • During a person’s first visit with a health care provider, is there time to ask questions?

    Yes, an initial visit with a health care provider is a good time to ask questions. The following are some questions that people with newly diagnosed HIV typically ask:

    • Because I have HIV, will I eventually get AIDS?
    • What can I do to stay healthy and avoid getting other infections?
    • How can I prevent passing HIV to others?
    • How will HIV treatment affect my lifestyle?
    • How should I tell my partner that I have HIV?
    • Is there any reason to tell my employer and those I work with that I have HIV?
    • Are there support groups for people with HIV?
    • Are there resources available to help me pay for my HIV medicines?
  • Where can someone find resources for a person just diagnosed with HIV?

    ​​​​​​​The following are resources to share with someone with newly diagnosed HIV:

    • How to Find HIV Treatment Services, a fact sheet listing HIV-related resources, including resources to help find a health care provider and get help paying for HIV medicines, from HIVinfo.
    • Telling Others, a webpage with information on how to share an HIV diagnosis with others, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When to Start HIV Medicines

  • Key Points

    • Treatment with HIV medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) is recommended for everyone with HIV. HIV medicines help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives and reduce the risk of HIV transmission.
    • People with HIV should start taking HIV medicines as soon as possible after HIV is diagnosed. For people with HIV who have the following conditions, it is especially important to start taking HIV medicines right away: pregnancy, AIDS-defining conditions, and early HIV infection. (Early HIV infection, also known as acute HIV infection, is the period up to 6 months after infection with HIV.)
    • Before starting HIV treatment, people with HIV should discuss the importance of medication adherence—taking HIV medicines every day and exactly as prescribed—with their health care provider.
  • When is it time to start taking HIV medicines?

    Treatment with HIV medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) is recommended for everyone with HIV. People with HIV should start taking HIV medicines as soon as possible after HIV is diagnosed.

    A main goal of HIV treatment is to reduce a person’s viral load to an undetectable level. An undetectable viral load means that the level of HIV in the blood is too low to be detected by a viral load test. Maintaining an undetectable viral load helps a person with HIV live a longer, healthier life. People with HIV who maintain an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative partners through sex.

    To reduce their viral load, it is important for people with HIV to start taking HIV medicines as soon as possible. Starting HIV medicines right away is especially important for people with HIV who have certain conditions.

  • What conditions make it especially important to start HIV medicines right away?

    The following conditions make it especially important to start HIV medicines right away:

    Pregnancy

    All pregnant women with HIV should take HIV medicines to protect their health and prevent perinatal transmission of HIV. Women with HIV who become pregnant and are not already taking HIV medicines should start taking HIV medicines as soon as possible and throughout pregnancy. In most cases, women who are already on an effective HIV treatment regimen when they become pregnant should continue using the same regimen throughout their pregnancies.

    The risk of perinatal transmission of HIV during pregnancy and childbirth is lowest when a woman with HIV has an undetectable viral load. Maintaining an undetectable viral load also helps keep the mother-to-be healthy.

    Early HIV infection

    Early HIV infection, also known as acute HIV infection, is the period up to 6 months after infection with HIV. During early HIV infection, a person’s viral load is often very high.

    Studies suggest that even at this early stage of HIV infection, HIV medicines can begin to protect a person’s health. In addition, starting HIV medicines during early HIV infection reduces the risk of HIV transmission.

    AIDS-defining conditions

    AIDS-defining conditions are certain infections and cancers that are life-threatening in people with HIV. Having an AIDS-defining condition indicates that a person has the immune system of a person with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS); starting HIV medicines as soon as possible can improve immune function.

  • Once a person starts taking HIV medicines, why is medication adherence important?

    Medication adherence means sticking to an HIV treatment regimen—taking HIV medicines every day and exactly as prescribed. Medication adherence is key to maintaining an undetectable viral load, which protects the immune system and reduces the risk of HIV transmission.

    Before starting HIV treatment, it is important to talk to your health care provider about any issues that can make adherence difficult. For example, a busy schedule or lack of health insurance can make it hard to take HIV medicines consistently. Health care providers can recommend resources to help people deal with any issues that may interfere with adherence.

    Read the following HIVinfo fact sheets to learn more about medication adherence:

  • This fact sheet is based on information from the following sources:

    From the Department of Health and Human Services:

    Also see the HIV Source collection of HIV links and resources.

What to Start: Choosing an HIV Treatment Regimen

  • Key Points

    • The use of HIV medicines to treat HIV infection is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). People on ART take a combination of HIV medicines (called an HIV treatment regimen) every day.
    • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved more than 30 HIV medicines to treat HIV infection.
    • The choice of HIV medicines to include in an HIV treatment regimen depends on a person's individual needs. When choosing an HIV treatment regimen, people with HIV and their health care providers consider many factors, including possible side effects of HIV medicines and potential drug interactions.
  • What is an HIV treatment regimen?

    An HIV treatment regimen is a combination of HIV medicines used to treat HIV infection. HIV treatment (also called antiretroviral therapy or ART) begins with choosing a regimen. People on ART take the HIV medicines in their HIV regimens every day. ART helps people with HIV live longer, healthier lives and reduces the risk of HIV transmission.

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved more than 30 HIV medicines to treat HIV infection. Some HIV medicines are available in combination (in other words, two or more different HIV medicines combined in one pill).

    HIV medicines are grouped into seven drug classes according to how they fight HIV.

  • What are the HIV drug classes?

    The seven HIV drug classes are:

    The choice of HIV medicines to include in a treatment regimen depends on a person’s individual needs. Click here to see the HIVinfo fact sheet that lists the FDA-approved HIV medicines by drug class.

  • What factors are considered when choosing an HIV treatment regimen?

    When choosing an HIV treatment regimen, people with HIV and their health care providers consider the following factors:

    • Other diseases or conditions that the person with HIV may have, such as heart disease or pregnancy.
    • Possible side effects of HIV medicines.
    • Potential interactions between HIV medicines or between HIV medicines and other medicines the person with HIV is taking.
    • Results of drug-resistance testing (and other tests). Drug-resistance testing identifies which, if any, HIV medicines will not be effective against a person’s HIV.
    • Convenience of the treatment regimen. For example, a regimen that includes two or more HIV medicines combined in one pill is convenient to follow.
    • Any issues that can make it difficult to follow an HIV treatment regimen. For example, a lack of health insurance or an inability to pay for HIV medicines can make it hard to take HIV medicines consistently every day.

    The best HIV treatment regimen for a person depends on their individual needs.

  • How long does it take for HIV medicines to work?

    Viral load is the amount of HIV in a person’s blood. A main goal of HIV treatment is to reduce a person’s viral load to an undetectable level. An undetectable viral load means that the level of HIV in the blood is too low to be detected by a viral load test.

    Once HIV treatment is started, it usually takes 3 to 6 months for a person’s viral load to reach an undetectable level. Although HIV medicines cannot cure HIV, having an undetectable viral load shows that the medicines are controlling a person’s HIV. Maintaining an undetectable viral load helps people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. In addition, people with HIV who maintain an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative partners through sex.

  • This fact sheet is based on information from the following sources:

    From the Department of Health and Human Services:

    From the Department of Veterans Affairs: 

    Also see the HIV Source collection of HIV links and resources.

FDA-Approved HIV Medicines

Drug Resistance

  • Key Points

    • Once a person gets HIV, the virus begins to multiply in the body. As HIV multiplies, it sometimes changes form (mutates). Some HIV mutations that develop while a person is taking HIV medicines can lead to drug-resistant HIV.
    • Once drug resistance develops, HIV medicines that previously controlled a person’s HIV are no longer effective. In other words, the HIV medicines cannot prevent the drug-resistant HIV from multiplying. Drug resistance can cause HIV treatment to fail.
    • Drug-resistant HIV can be transmitted from person to person or develop after a person starts taking HIV medicines.
    • Drug-resistance testing identifies which, if any, HIV medicines that will not be effective against a person’s HIV. Drug-resistance testing results help determine which HIV medicines to include in an HIV treatment regimen.
    • Taking HIV medicines every day and exactly as prescribed (called medication adherence) reduces the risk of drug resistance.
  • What is HIV drug resistance?

    Once a person gets HIV, the virus begins to multiply in the body. As HIV multiplies, it sometimes changes form (mutates). Some HIV mutations that develop while a person is taking HIV medicines can lead to drug-resistant HIV.

    Once drug resistance develops, HIV medicines that previously controlled the person’s HIV are no longer effective. In other words, the HIV medicines cannot prevent the drug-resistant HIV from multiplying. Drug resistance can cause HIV treatment to fail.

    Drug-resistant HIV can spread from person to person (called transmitted resistance). People with transmitted resistance have HIV that is resistant to one or more HIV medicines even before they start taking HIV medicines.

  • What is drug-resistance testing?

    Drug-resistance testing identifies which, if any, HIV medicines that will not be effective against a person’s HIV. Drug-resistance testing is done using a sample of blood.

    People with HIV should start taking HIV medicines as soon as possible after their HIV is diagnosed. But before a person starts taking HIV medicines, drug-resistance testing is done.

    Drug-resistance test results help determine which HIV medicines to include in a person’s first HIV treatment regimen.

    Once HIV treatment is started, a viral load test is used to monitor whether the HIV medicines are controlling a person’s HIV. If viral load testing indicates that a person’s HIV treatment regimen is not effective, drug-resistance testing is repeated. The test results can identify whether drug resistance is the problem and, if so, can be used to select a new HIV treatment regimen.

  • How can a person taking HIV medicines reduce the risk of drug resistance?

    Taking HIV medicines every day and exactly as prescribed (called medication adherence) reduces the risk of drug resistance. Skipping HIV medicines allows HIV to multiply, which increases the risk that the virus will mutate and produce drug-resistant HIV.

    Before starting HIV treatment, tell your health care provider about any issues that can make medication adherence difficult. For example, a busy schedule or lack of health insurance can make it hard to take HIV medicines consistently. Once you start treatment, use a 7-day pill box or other medication aid to stay on track. You can download the Clinical Info mobile application to set daily medication reminders.

    The following HIVinfo resources offer more information on drug resistance and medication adherence:

  • This fact sheet is based on information from the following sources:

    From the Department of Health and Human Services:

    • Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in Adults and Adolescents Living with HIV:

    From the Department of Veterans Affairs:

    From the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases:

    Also see the HIV Source collection of HIV links and resources.

FDA-Approved HIV Medicines

HIV Treatment Adherence

  • Key Points

    • Treatment adherence includes starting HIV treatment, keeping all medical appointments, and taking HIV medicines every day and exactly as prescribed (also called medication adherence). For people with HIV, treatment adherence is key to staying healthy.
    • It is best to see a health care provider as soon as possible after testing positive for HIV. Once in medical care, people with HIV should start taking HIV medicines as soon as possible.
    • Because HIV requires lifelong treatment, it is important for people with HIV to regularly visit their health care provider. Ongoing medical care includes monitoring to make sure a person's HIV treatment regimen is keeping the virus under control.
  • What is HIV treatment adherence?

    For people with HIV, treatment adherence means:

    • Starting HIV treatment
    • Taking HIV medicines every day and exactly as prescribed (also called medication adherence)
    • Keeping all medical appointments

    Adherence to treatment is a key part of staying healthy with HIV.

  • How soon should a person start treatment after testing positive for HIV?

    It is best to see a health care provider as soon as possible after testing positive for HIV. Once in medical care, people with HIV should start taking HIV medicines as soon as possible. Treatment with HIV medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) is recommended for everyone with HIV. HIV medicines help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. HIV medicines also reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

    Because HIV requires lifelong treatment, it is important for people with HIV to regularly visit their health care provider. Ongoing medical care includes monitoring to make sure a person's HIV treatment regimen is keeping the virus under control. During regular medical appointments, health care providers can also recommend resources to help people deal with any issues that may interfere with medication adherence.

  • Why is medication adherence important?

    Taking HIV medicines every day prevents HIV from multiplying, which reduces the risk that HIV will mutate and produce drug-resistant HIV. Skipping HIV medicines allows HIV to multiply, which increases the risk of drug resistance and HIV treatment failure.

    Poor adherence to an HIV treatment regimen also allows HIV to destroy the immune system. A damaged immune system makes it hard for the body to fight off infections and certain cancers.

Following an HIV Treatment Regimen: Steps to Take Before and After Starting HIV Medicines

  • Key Points

    • An essential part of effective HIV treatment is medication adherence. Medication adherence means sticking to an HIV treatment regimen—taking HIV medicines every day and exactly as prescribed.
    • Before starting an HIV treatment regimen, tell your health care provider if you have any issues that might make it hard for you to follow an HIV treatment regimen. For example, people who have difficulty swallowing pills or people who do not have health insurance may find it hard to stick to an HIV treatment regimen.
    • After starting an HIV treatment regimen, medication aids, such as pill boxes, apps, and medication diaries, can help to maintain long-term medication adherence.
  • Adherence
    The benefits of good adherence include sustained viral suppression, reduced risk of drug resistance, better overall health, improved quality of life, and decreased risk of HIV transmission.
  • Before starting an HIV treatment regimen, talk to your health care provider about medication adherence.

    Talking with your health care provider will help you understand why you are starting HIV treatment and why medication adherence is important. Medication adherence means sticking to an HIV treatment regimen—taking HIV medicines every day and exactly as prescribed.

    Treatment with HIV medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) is recommended for everyone with HIV. HIV medicines help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. Adherence to an HIV treatment regimen reduces the risk of drug resistance and HIV transmission.

  • What should you tell your health care provider before starting an HIV treatment regimen?

    Tell your health care provider about other prescription and nonprescription medicines, vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal products you are taking or plan to take. Other medicines or products you take may interact with HIV medicines. A drug interaction may affect how an HIV medicine works or cause side effects. To learn more, read the HIVinfo What is a Drug Interaction? fact sheet.

    Tell your health care provider about any issues that might make adherence difficult. For example, people who have difficulty swallowing pills or people who do not have health insurance may find it hard to stick to an HIV treatment regimen.

    Describe your daily schedule to your health care provider. You and your health care provider can work together to design an HIV medication schedule that fits in with your day-to-day routine.

    Ask your health care provider for written instructions on how to follow your HIV treatment regimen. The instructions should include the following details:

    • How much of each medicine to take
    • When to take each medicine
    • How to take each medicine (for example, with or without food)
  • Use a variety of strategies to stick to your HIV treatment regimen.

    To maintain adherence, try some of the following strategies:

    • Use a 7-day pill box. Once a week, fill the pill box with your HIV medicines for the entire week.
    • Take your HIV medicines at the same time every day.
    • Set an alarm on your cell phone to remind you to take your medicines. You can also download the Clinical Info mobile application to bookmark your HIV medicines, make notes, and set daily pill reminders.
    • Ask a family member or friend to remind you to take your medicines.
    • Plan and prepare for changes in your daily routine, including weekends and holidays. If you are going away, pack enough medicine to last the entire trip.
    • Use an app or an online or paper medicine diary to record each medicine as you take it. Reviewing your diary will help you identify the times that you are most likely to forget to take your medicines.
    • Keep all your medical appointments. Be sure to refill your prescriptions before you run out of HIV medicines.
  • What should you do if you forget to take your HIV medicines?

    Unless your health care provider tells you otherwise, take the medicine you missed as soon as you realize you skipped it. But if it is almost time for the next dose, do not take the missed dose; just take your next dose at the usual time. Do not take a double dose of a medicine to make up for a missed dose.

  • Discuss medication adherence at each appointment with your health care provider.

    Tell your health care provider if you are having difficulty following your treatment regimen. Do not forget to mention any side effects you are having. Side effects from HIV medicines (or from other medicines that you are taking) can interfere with medication adherence.

    Let your health care provider know if your treatment regimen is too complicated to follow. Your health care provider may recommend that you switch to a simpler HIV treatment regimen.

  • This fact sheet is based on information from the following sources:

    From the Department of Health and Human Services:

    From the Health Resources and Services Administration:

    From HIV.gov:

    From the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:

    Also see the HIV Source collection of HIV links and resources.

What is a Drug Interaction?

  • Key Points

    • A drug interaction is a reaction between two (or more) drugs or between a drug and a food, beverage, or supplement. Taking a drug while having certain medical conditions can also cause a drug interaction. For example, taking a nasal decongestant if you have high blood pressure may cause an unwanted reaction.
    • A drug interaction can affect how a drug works or cause unwanted side effects.
    • Treatment with HIV medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) helps people with HIV live longer, healthier lives and reduces the risk of HIV transmission. But drug interactions can complicate HIV treatment.
    • Health care providers carefully consider potential drug interactions before recommending an HIV treatment regimen. Before taking HIV medicines, tell your health care provider about all prescription and nonprescription medicines, vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal products you are taking or plan to take.
  • What is a drug interaction?

    Medicines help us feel better and stay healthy. But sometimes drug interactions can cause problems. There are three types of drug interactions:

    • Drug-drug interaction: A reaction between two (or more) drugs.
    • Drug-food interaction: A reaction between a drug and a food or beverage.
    • Drug-condition interaction: A reaction that occurs when taking a drug while having a certain medical condition. For example, taking a nasal decongestant if you have high blood pressure may cause an unwanted reaction.

    A drug interaction can affect how a drug works or cause unwanted side effects.

    Drug Interaction
    Interaction between a drug and food, supplement, medical condition, and other drug(s) may cause possible side effects including: decrease the effectiveness of the drug, increase the effectiveness of the drug, and/or cause adverse side effects.
  • Do HIV medicines ever cause drug interactions?

    Treatment with HIV medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) helps people with HIV live longer, healthier lives and reduces the risk of HIV transmission. But drug interactions, especially drug-drug interactions, can complicate HIV treatment.

    Drug-drug interactions between different HIV medicines and between HIV medicines and other medicines are common. Before recommending an HIV treatment regimen, health care providers carefully consider potential drug-drug interactions between HIV medicines. They also ask about other medicines a person may be taking. For example, some HIV medicines may make hormonal birth control less effective, so women using hormonal contraceptives may need to use an additional or different method of birth control to prevent pregnancy. For more information about using birth control and HIV medicines at the same time, view the HIV and Birth Control infographic from HIVinfo.

  • Can drug-food interactions and drug-condition interactions affect people taking HIV medicines?

    Yes, the use of HIV medicines can lead to both drug-food interactions and drug-condition interactions.

    Food can affect the absorption of some HIV medicines and increase or reduce the concentration of the medicine in the blood. Depending on the HIV medicine, the change in concentration may be helpful or harmful. Directions on how to take HIV medicines specify whether to take the medicine with food or on an empty stomach. Some HIV medicines can be taken with or without food, because food does not affect their absorption.

    Conditions, such as kidney disease, hepatitis, and pregnancy, can affect how the body processes HIV medicines. The dosing of some HIV medicines may need to be adjusted in people with certain medical conditions.

  • How can a person avoid drug interactions?

    You can take the following steps to avoid drug interactions:

    • Tell your health care provider about all prescription and nonprescription medicines you are taking or plan to take. Also tell your health care provider about any vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal products you take.
    • Tell your health care provider about any other conditions you may have, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
    • Before taking a medicine, ask your health care provider or pharmacist the following questions:
      • What is the medicine used for?
      • How should I take the medicine?
      • While taking the medicine, should I avoid any other medicines or certain foods or beverages?
      • Can I take this medicine safely with the other medicines that I am taking? Are there any possible drug interactions I should know about? What are the signs of those drug interactions?
      • In the case of a drug interaction, what should I do?
    • Take medicines according to your health care provider's instructions. Always read the information and directions that come with a medicine. Drug labels and package inserts include important information about possible drug interactions.
  • This fact sheet is based on information from the following sources:

    From the Department of Health and Human Services:

    From the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

    From the National Institute on Aging:

    Also see the HIV Source collection of HIV links and resources.

HIV and Immunizations

  • Key Points

    • Vaccines protect people from diseases, such as chicken pox, influenza (flu), and polio. Vaccines are given by needle injection (a shot), by mouth, or sprayed into the nose. The process of getting a vaccine is called vaccination or immunization.
    • There are no vaccines to prevent or treat HIV, but people with HIV can benefit from vaccines against other diseases. The following vaccines are recommended for all people with HIV: hepatitis B; human papillomavirus (HPV) (for those up to age 26); influenza (flu); meningococcal; pneumococcal (pneumonia); and tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (a single vaccine protects against these three diseases).
    • Additional vaccines may be recommended for a person with HIV based on the person’s age, previous vaccinations, risk factors for a particular disease, or certain HIV-related factors.
  • What are vaccines?

    Vaccines protect people from diseases, such as chicken pox, influenza (flu), and polio. Vaccines are given by needle injection (a shot), by mouth, or sprayed into the nose. The process of getting a vaccine is called vaccination or immunization.

    When a person gets a vaccine, the body's immune system mounts an immune response that protects the body against the disease. In this way, the immune system learns to defend the body if the person is later exposed to the disease. Most vaccines are designed so that a person never gets a particular disease or only gets a mild case of the disease.

    Vaccines not only protect individuals from disease, they protect communities as well. When most people in a community get immunized against a disease, there is little chance of a disease outbreak.

  • Are vaccines safe?

    Yes. Vaccines are safe and effective. Some people may experience side effects from vaccines, but these are generally minor (for example, soreness at the location of an injection or a mild fever) and go away within a few days. Severe reactions to vaccines are rare. Before getting a vaccine, talk to your health care provider about the benefits of the vaccine and possible side effects.

  • Is there a vaccine against HIV?

    Testing is underway on experimental vaccines to prevent and treat HIV, but no HIV vaccines have been approved for use outside of clinical trials. For more information about experimental HIV vaccines, read the HIVinfo fact sheets What is a Preventive HIV Vaccine? and What is a Therapeutic HIV Vaccine?

    Even though there are no vaccines to prevent or treat HIV, people with HIV can benefit from vaccines against other diseases.

  • Which vaccines are recommended for people with HIV?

    The following vaccines are recommended for people with HIV:

    • Hepatitis B
    • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
    • Influenza (flu)
    • Meningococcal
    • Pneumococcal (pneumonia)
    • Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough). A single vaccine called Tdap protects adolescents and adults against these three diseases.

    Additional vaccines may be recommended for a person with HIV based on the person’s age, previous vaccinations, risk factors for a particular disease, or certain HIV-related factors.

    People with HIV should talk with their health care providers to determine which vaccines they should receive and when they should receive them.

  • What about travel and immunizations?

    Regardless of destination, all travelers should be up-to-date on routine vaccinations. People who plan to travel outside the United States may need to be vaccinated against diseases that are present in other parts of the world, such as cholera or yellow fever.

    If you have HIV, talk to your health care provider about any vaccines you may need before you travel.

    To prepare for your trip, read information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Travelers with Weakened Immune Systems.