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Immune System

As everyone grows older, our immune systems become less able to deal with infection. This is why an older person who is not being treated for HIV is likely to progress more rapidly towards AIDS than a younger person. This is one reason why early treatment is important, rather than waiting until you have symptoms.

However, there is now new strong evidence that earlier treatment for all HIV-positive people, regardless of age, has significant health benefits. With HIV treatments now generally much better tolerated and simpler to take, all HIV-positive are being encouraged to talk with their doctor about treatments.

People living with HIV can be at higher risk of a wide range of cancers related to other infections heightened by their weakened immune systems.

A healthy immune system is your best defence against the long-term effects of HIV.

What you can do to live well:
  • Talk to your doctor about the benefits of treatment.
  • Avoid any long treatments breaks and follow the recommended dosing instructions for all medications i.e., take the full dose of each drug as prescribed at a regular time each day. Even a short period of interrupted medication could increase the chance that drug resistance will develop.
  • If you miss a dose don't double up.
  • As a memory aid, consider distributing pills into a dedicated pill box with a section for each day of the week.
  • If you often move between addresses or travel, keep a back-up supply of pills at the different places you visit (e.g. work, partner's place, a place you go on weekends).
  • Plan ahead if there is going to be a change to your usual routine so you can still take you treatments.
  • Talk with your health care professional about possible interactions with any prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs and complimentary/natural therapies you are taking. These could interfere with anti-HIV medication, and may affect how well both the HIV treatments and other treatments work.
  • Be aware of the interactions with recreational drugs. Using recreational drugs and heavy drinking can further suppress the immune system and can make taking treatments difficult. Some recreational drugs interact with HIV treatments, leading to treatments that don't work as well or have worse side effects. Ecstasy, crystal/ice and other types of methamphetamines may cause dangerous, even fatal interactions with some types of HIV treatments as they slow down the body's elimination of the recreational drugs. Consider your usage of recreational drugs and alcohol, and consider when you take these to reduce their impact on HIV treatments.
  • Speak to your doctor about recommendations for vaccinations against co-infections that can interfere with treatment of HIV infection (e.g. hepatitis A and B, bacterial pneumonias and influenza). You can also speak to your doctor about other vaccinations such as that for the human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that can cause genital warts and several types of cancers such as cervical and anal/penile cancers. You should also speak to your doctor about vaccinations to avoid (e.g. travel vaccinations you can safely have and when you should have them).
  • Visit the NAPWA site for detailed information on hepatitis A, B and C and co-infection with HIV.