Antiretroviral drugs are drugs which are designed to combat retroviruses. These unique viruses pose distinct challenges to medical professionals, and finding effective drugs to treat them has been a difficult task. The most famous retroviruses are Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). These viruses are notoriously difficult to treat due to their adaptability and insidious nature.
A retrovirus is enveloped in RNA, and it uses an enzyme called reverse transcriptase to turn the RNA into DNA. This converted DNA merges with the cell that the virus occupies, infecting the cell and ensuring that the harmful DNA will spread when the cell divides. This clever attack method makes the virus difficult to dislodge once it has taken hold, and it leads to a multitude of symptoms, since these viruses attack the immune system directly, rather than the body.
In order to successfully combat retroviruses, an antiretroviral drug must attack the mechanisms which allow them to replicate and take over. There are a number of different antiretroviral classes, all of which focus on different stages of the duplication of the virus. Since the viruses tend to mutate very quickly, many patients are forced to take a unique cocktail of drugs which addresses their specific infection. When a combination of drugs is taken, it is known as Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART).
Although antiretroviral drugs can discourage replication and halt the progress of the disease, they cannot cure it entirely. This can be frustrating for patients, as they may have to take HAART for their entire lifetimes to ensure that the disease is kept at bay. This can also be challenging for physicians, as they may need to make subtle adjustments to dosages and medications to keep the antiretroviral drugs effective. Failure to complete a regimen can lead to increased drug resistance, which is harmful for all humans as well as the patient.
In addition to requiring a lifetime commitment, the drugs also come at a high price, literally and figuratively. Thanks to high demand for antiretroviral drugs in developed countries, many pharmaceutical companies have developed a wide range of drugs, all of which are very expensive. Attempts at making cheaper therapies available in developing nations have been met with substantial opposition. The drugs also have intense side effects, some of which can get so severe that the patient wonders if he or she might be better off with an active infection.
When antiretroviral drugs are prescribed, it helps to pick a health care provider and stick with him or her. Every doctor has a slightly different approach to retroviral infections which includes the patient's unique health history and experience on antiretrovirals. Keeping all of these medical records in the same place ensures a high quality of care for the patient.