Treatment aims to prevent the mortality and morbidity associated with chronic HIV infection whilst minimising drug toxicity. Although it should be started before the immune system is irreversibly damaged, the need for early drug treatment should be balanced against the risk of toxicity. Commitment to treatment and strict adherence over many years are required; the regimen chosen should take into account convenience and patient tolerance. Treatment also reduces the risk of HIV transmission to sexual partners, but the risk is not eliminated completely.
The optimum time for initiating antiretroviral treatment depends primarily on the CD4 cell count. The timing and choice of treatment should also take account of clinical symptoms, comorbidities and the possible effect of antiretroviral drugs on factors such as the risk of CV events. Treatment includes a combination of drugs known at 'highly active antretroviral therapy'.