HIV/AIDS Drug Side Effects

HIV & AIDS were first reported in 1981. Since its discovery, there have been countless amounts of victims who have been plagued by the severity of the disease. However, there have been strides in the medical community in order to not only prevent HIV and AIDS but also to treat the harmful and often deadly side symptoms. Life expectancy for HIV and AIDS patients has increased 15 years since 2002 with many now living until 71 years of age. This improved survival rate relies on treatments and medications. However, several HIV/AIDS drug manufacturers are facing lawsuits because of severe side effects plaintiffs experienced.

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What Is HIV?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficient Virus and is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. This virus has been closely monitored since its development by the Department of Health to find the best methods of treatment, and prevention, and to track the progress of the virus. 

What Are the Symptoms of HIV?

The early infection period for HIV will often resemble the flu.

While some patients experience no symptoms at all, others have reported experiencing symptoms such as: 

  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Chills 
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle Aches

Since these symptoms are similar to the flu and other illnesses, they can often be overlooked. The only way to know if you have HIV is by getting tested for HIV by your doctor. 

What Are the Stages of HIV?

HIV, like any other illness or virus, comes in stages. The first stage is usually where patients will experience the flu-like symptoms. This is called the Acute HIV Infection and patients are extremely contagious in this stage. 

The second stage is Chronic HIV Infection and this is when the body overcomes the symptoms of the first stage and is now asymptomatic. Despite there not being symptoms, the patient is still HIV positive and can transmit their HIV to others and even progress their HIV into AIDS.

What Is AIDS?

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the third stage of HIV and is the most severe infection stage. Patients who develop AIDS have a damaged immune system which can lead them to develop other infections and illnesses. They are also able to easily transmit HIV to others due to the high virality of the virus in their body. 

What Are the Symptoms of AIDS?

Since AIDS is caused by the deterioration of the immune system, patients may experience countless amount of symptoms from other infections they may receive.

The most commonly reported symptoms include: 

  • Diarrhea
  • Dry cough
  • Memory Loss
  • Depression
  • Pneumonia
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Night Sweats
  • Red, brown, pink, or purple spots on the skin, in the mouth, on the nose, or on the eyelids. 
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • White spots and blemishes on the tongue, mouth, or throat. 

How Is HIV Transmitted?

HIV can only be transmitted by coming in direct contact with certain bodily fluids from an HIV-positive individual. These fluids include blood, semen, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. 

The ways in which individuals may come into contact with an HIV-positive person’s bodily fluids can include: 

  • Vaginal or anal sex without a condom
  • Sharing injection drug equipment like needles and syringes
  • An HIV-positive person passes HIV to their child during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding. 
  • Oral sex
  • Bites by a person with HIV

What Are Ways to Prevent HIV Transmission?

Since HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids, there are many preventative measures that individuals can take to avoid contracting or transmitting HIV.

Some of these strategies are: 

  • Abstinence 
  • Never sharing needles
  • Using condoms correctly
  • HIV prevention medications

What Are Ways To Treat HIV & AIDS?

HIV progresses quickly without treatment so it’s important that individuals who test positive begin their treatment of the virus as soon as possible. There are many different medications and treatment options that doctors offer to HIV-positive patients. 

What Is Antiretroviral Therapy?

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the treatment of individuals who are HIV-positive. This treatment is a combination of drugs that suppress HIV replication. The reason that the drugs are combined is to increase the potency of the drug and ultimately to decrease the likelihood of the virus developing resistance When the HIV replication in someone’s body is suppressed, this decreases the chance that the individual can transmit the virus to others. 

What Antiretroviral Medications Are Available?

Current antiretroviral medications on the market include: 

  • Entry/Fusion Inhibitors: Entry, or fusion, inhibitors are AIDS drugs that help suppress HIV by blocking it from attaching to a host cell. Examples are Fuzeon, Selzentry, Cenicriviroc, and Ivalizumab. 
  • Nucleoside/Nucleotide Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors: NRTIs/NtRTIs work by obstructing the HIV replication process with false HIV DNA. Examples are Emtriva, Combivir, Epzicom, Truvada, and Viread. 
  • Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors: NNRTIs incapacitate the reverse transcriptase enzyme which is necessary for making HIV DNA. Examples are Edurant, Intelence, Rescriptor, and Sustiva. 
  • Integrase Inhibitors: Integrase is another necessary enzyme that is used by HIV to “hijack” host cell DNA for replication. Examples are Isentress, Dolutegravir, and Elvitegravir.
  • Protease Inhibitors: Inhibits HIV protease, an enzyme used to cut HIV proteins before they are used for new HIV particles. Examples are Aptivus, Crixivan, Invirase, and Kaletra. 

What Are Fixed-Dose Combinations?

Fixed-dose combinations are medications created for patients who don’t want to take the above medications due to most exceeding 1,000 milligrams. To ensure that patients stay on track with their medications, fixed-dose medications were created.

Some of these fixed-dose combinations include: 

  • Combivir: zidovudine + lamivudine
  • Trizivir: abacavir + zidovudine + lamivudine
  • Kaletra: Lapinavir + ritonavir
  • Epzicom: Abacavir + lamivudine
  • Atripla: Efavirenz + tenofovir/emtricitabine 

What Is Medication Resistance?

HIV develops through replication and as it continues to replicate, it can begin to mutate. As the virus mutates, it can begin to build up resistance to the ART medications and can potentially survive and thrive through the medication. 

This phenomenon is not uncommon for patients and many HIV-positive individuals can have an ART resistance even before they begin treatment. That is why there are so many drug options for patients to take. The only way to combat this resistance is to change the medication. 

What Are the Drug Combination Short-Term Side Effects?

Medications will always have general side effects, so when ART combines multiple drugs into HIV treatment, it can lead to adverse side effects. HIV treatment is largely dependent on the patient’s willingness and ability to live with the side effects of the medication combinations. Common short-term effects can include fatigue, anemia, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, insomnia, pain, nerve damage, pain or nerve problems, dry mouth, and weight loss. 

If these common, short-term side effects persist, doctors can change the patient’s dosages, treat the direct, persistent side effect(s), or completely change the treatment regimen. 

What Are the Drug Combination Long-Term Side Effects?

The most common, long-term side effects of taking fixed-dose combinations are:

  • Fat redistribution
  • Increase in cholesterol
  • Elevated blood sugar levels
  • Decreased bone density

All of these side effects require that the patient take up a more healthy, active lifestyle during their treatment. This requires dietary changes, light exercise, and possible supplements prescribed by doctors. 

How Are Patients Tested for HIV?

HIV tests are accurate, but the test must be taken a couple of weeks after the initial infection period. There is a window of time after the initial HIV infection where, if tested, the test may give a false negative. 

There are a number of different tests that are available and the waiting period depends on the type of test being used. 

What Are Antibody Tests?

An antibody test looks for the antibodies to HIV that a person may have in their blood or oral fluid. Antibodies are produced by the body’s immune system when fighting a virus. For an antibody test, the blood from a vein can be used to detect HIV sooner after the initial infection, but the antibody test can be done with blood from a finger stick or with oral fluid. The test can take 23 to 90 days to detect HIV. 

What Are Antigen/Antibody Tests?

An antigen/antibody test looks for both the antibodies and antigens within the body. Antigens are foreign substances within the body that trigger the immune system to release antibodies. The antigen that is produced when an individual has HIV is called p24. 

This test is performed in a lab and takes blood directly from the vein and can take 18 to 45 days to detect HIV after exposure. There are rapid antigen/antibody tests that can be done with a finger stick that can take anywhere from 18 to 90 days to detect HIV after exposure. 

What Are Nucleic Acid Tests?

NATs look for the actual virus within the blood. This test is reserved for those who have recent exposure or possible exposure as can be seen with their early, flu-like symptoms. These patients typically will receive a false negative with an antibody or antigen/antibody test. The NAT test can detect HIV in the body 10 to 33 days after exposure. 

What HIV/AIDS Drugs Are Associated With Lawsuits?

The drugs that have been associated with lawsuits in the past are: 

  • Truvada
  • Viread
  • Atripla
  • Stribild
  • Complera

Why Are There HIV/AIDS Drugs Lawsuits?

It has been speculated that manufacturers of these popular drugs, including Gilead, knowingly and unnecessarily exposed patients to kidney and bone problems. In the legal disputes, allegations came up that companies that produce these drugs concealed the harmful side effects throughout the studies and trials. 

What Are Plaintiffs Claiming About HIV/AIDS Drugs?

There are many, adverse effects that patients have experienced after using HIV/AIDS drugs.

Some of these adverse side effects include: 

  • Jaundice
  • Insulin resistance
  • Hypersensitivity reactions
  • Myocardial infarction
  • Ischemic stroke
  • Bone Marrow Suppression

Are There Any HIV/AIDS Drugs Lawsuit Settlements?

As of October 2023, there have not been any settlement payouts by Gilead or other producers of HIV/AIDs drugs. It has been estimated that the payouts can be anywhere from $75-$230 per person.

Are There Active HIV/AIDS Drugs Lawsuits?

Class-action lawsuits are still in the process of being heard in court. As of October 2023, there have been no verdicts heard. The lawsuits are still pending but are expected to be consolidated in multidistrict litigation.

Notwithstanding claims relating to this product, the drug/medical device remains approved by the U.S. FDA. 


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