Healthy Living

What is Antiviral Medication?

What is Antiviral Medication?

Antiviral medication refers to drugs that are used for treatment of HIV. These drugs do not completely treat the infection but are used to suppress the development of the virus and stop it from becoming AIDS. Since HIV virus replicates itself once it gets into the bloodstream, the medication stops it from reproducing. Thus, giving the immune system strength to prevent damage.

There are different types of antiviral medications since different bodies react differently to the treatment. Sometimes, the virus becomes easily resistant to one type of drug. In this case, the patient is required to change to another type. Due to this, scientists have made it possible for patients to take a combination of the medications to fight the virus. Taking a combination of the medication is also known as antiretroviral therapy (ART) or combination therapy.

How HIV Infects the Body

HIV is a retrovirus which comes under the genus Lentivirus. This type of virus is an RNA virus which means that it carries its genetic code in a strand of ribonucleic acid as opposed to deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which is the more common form of genetic code among living creatures. The virus is not able to replicate itself and therefore needs what is referred to as a host cell. In the case of HIV, the host cells include human CD4+ cells, macrophages, and microglial cells which are all components of the immune system. Once the virus enters the cell, it shuts down normal cell activity and starts using the cell machinery to first make DNA from its own RNA and then use the DNA to make proteins in order to replicate itself. The body cannot fight HIV on its own for two main reasons:

1. The immune system cannot recognize the virus as a foreign pathogen as long as it is safely hidden away in one of the body’s own cells.

2. By means of its infection, HIV slowly but surely breaks down the immune system leaving the body defenseless and vulnerable to further spreading of the virus.

This is why HIV infections last a lifetime and for the patient to have any chance of survival, outside help by way of drug therapies is required.

How Do Antiviral Medications Help Someone?

Once an infected person starts taking the antiviral treatment, there is great improvement. The person can live for decades with the infection. Antiviral medications should be taken strictly, without skipping. The following are some of the ways through which antiviral medications helps HIV patients.

  • They improve the quality of life
  • Help your body in fighting opportunistic infections
  • They lower the viral load
  • Suppress the symptoms
  • Slow down growth of the virus
  • Improve functioning of the immune system

Types of Antiviral Medications

There are five different classes of the medication that are mostly used as a combination. When these drugs are used in combination it is mostly termed as combination antiretroviral therapy (cART), antiretroviral therapy (ART), or highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART).

1. Entry inhibitors. These are drugs that mostly prevent the virus from affecting more cells. They prevent the HIV-1 from entering, fusing, and binding with the T-cells.

2. Nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NtRI) and nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTI), These are nucleotide and nucleoside analogues that stop reverse transcription. They prevent the virus from getting into the DNA.

3. Non-Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTI) bind on a site called allosteric site of the enzyme to inhibit reverse transcriptase.

4. Integrase inhibitors. They prevent the viral DNA from being integrated into the DNA of the infected cell by inhibiting the enzyme integrase.

5. Protease inhibitors. They work by cleaving of the gag proteins of the virus.

Side Effects of Antiviral Medications

Depending on the type of person and the type of antiviral medications, a person can experience different side effects. Nevertheless, it is important to try other types of medications if the side effects persist.

Guidelines Towards Taking Antiviral Medications

  • The medication should be taken by everyone with the infection irrespective of the CD4 count.
  • The medication is recommended to all people with the infection to reduce progression.
  • Patients should be willing and have the ability to commit to the medications. They should also know the benefits and risks of taking the medication.
  • People taking the medication should develop a routine for themselves to take the medication depending on their lifestyle. Missing doses can cause the treatment not to work.
  • Pregnant mothers should stick to the medication to protect their newborns from the infection. They are also advised not to breastfeed their babies.
  • The symptoms of infection can be more severe to the children since they lack a strong immune system. People with children under treatment should make sure they don’t miss their pills.


There is no cure for an HIV infection. However, there are certain drugs called Antiviral Medication that can be administered to help control the virus. There are several types of antiviral medications that act by disrupting replication of the virus at the various stages of its cycle. These drugs are used in combination for the best results and are referred to as antiretroviral therapy or some form of the same. By disrupting the virus’ cycle of multiplying, the drugs help to prevent the virus from spreading to other CD4+ cells, macrophages, and microglial cells. This in turn ensures that the immune system remains healthy and is able to protect the body from other opportunistic infections.

Antiviral medications need to be taken for the rest of the patient’s life. A strict schedule needs to be kept for taking the drugs and not even a single dose should be missed or the effects could be lost. There are also several unfavorable side effects to antiviral medication, however the benefit of leading a near normal life far outweigh the costs. Antiviral medications are very helpful in preventing HIV+ mothers from transmitting the virus to their babies during childbirth.

The Bottom Line

According to the current scientific research, people sticking to the antiviral medications are able to live a relatively normal and healthy life for decades with the infection.