Improvements in HIV treatment means that young people diagnosed with HIV may now have near-normal life expectancies, according to a new study published in The Lancet medical journal.

This news comes after a research team at the University of Bristol studied data from 18 North American medical investigations into HIV-1 – the world’s most predominant and widespread strain of the HIV virus. Their research involved more than 88,504 cases of HIV between 1996 and 2010. The people the scientists looked into all had antiretroviral therapy (ART) and had at least three years follow-up after finishing a course of this HIV treatment. Life expectancy in these cases was estimated by tracking how many of those people died during the three-year treatment follow-up, the cause of their deaths, HIV viral load, immune cell count and whether or not they were infected through injecting drugs.

By investigating all of these factors, the team behind the study concluded that the life expectancy of a 20-year-old who began antiretroviral therapy in or later than 2008 and had a low viral load after one year of treatment had a life expectancy of around 78 years old- close to that of the average general population.


Antiretroviral Therapy

The dramatic improvements in the life expectancy of patients with HIV are likely to be a result of the transition to ART in the mid to late 1990s. This is a less toxic HIV treatment and has more options available for those infected with a drug-resistant strain of the infection.

Antiretroviral therapy first became a common HIV treatment in 1996. It is a combination of three or more drugs which, together, prevent the HIV virus from replicating. This repairs damage and stops further damage to the immune system, preventing the onward spread of HIV. Antiretroviral therapy is now the most highly recommended HIV treatment by the World Health Organisation.


HIV – Get Tested

HIV is one of the fastest growing medical conditions in the UK. There is currently an estimated 101,200 people living with HIV in the UK and of these, it is believed that 13% are undiagnosed.

HIV is preventable and the risk of contracting the condition can be significantly reduced by changing a few key lifestyle factors. It is important to note that early detection can lead to more successful treatment and better outcomes. An early diagnosis will lead to the correct care. Because of this, it is important to get tested for HIV.

How often you need to get tested for HIV depends on your individual circumstances. Those most at risk of becoming infected with the virus include:

  • People with multiple sexual partners
  • People who have had sex with someone who is HIV positive
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Those who inject drugs and share needles
  • Those who have been diagnosed with hepatitis, tuberculosis or any other sexually transmitted infection

Taking steps to improve your sexual health will greatly reduce your risk of getting HIV. The Terrence Higgins Trust website has a comprehensive guide filled with advice on this topic.


Where to go in Richmond

There are many resources in the Richmond area which provide free HIV testing. One option is to speak to your GP who will be able to offer free and totally confidential testing, as well as give advice and discuss any concerns.

Another place in Richmond which offers HIV testing services is West Middlesex Hospital. You can also search for HIV testing services close to you by entering your postcode into the NHS Choices website.