The answer is YES! Except there is one big caveat: you have to live to 120 years old!
Let me explain. We currently have a lot of medicines used to treat HIV. They work in a variety of ways. Some block the HIV virus from entering the cell. Some stop the HIV virus from copying itself. Some block the HIV virus from joining with our cell’s DNA. All these things achieve one common goal. They interrupt the HIV life cycle so that it cannot reproduce and infect other cells. Our immune system then comes in and kills whatever virus is left floating about.
So with the current medicines we have, we can actually kill the HIV virus. So why is HIV still incurable?
This is because during the first few weeks when a person is infected with HIV, a lot of the virus goes into hiding in many different cells in the body. This is called the infection reservoir. The problem is when the HIV is in hiding, the medicines cannot get to it to kill it. So even though the medicines we have can eradicate HIV floating in the blood, more HIV viruses will then come out of their hiding place to keep the infection going.
Some very smart mathematicians calculated that if a person gets infected with HIV and starts taking the medicines when he is 30 years old, all of the virus would have come out of hiding and get killed when he reaches 120 years old. So effectively by then, this person will be cured of HIV.
So the trick to curing HIV is really not how to kill the virus (we already know how to do that), the trick is to lure the virus out of their hiding place.
In medical circles, this is called the “kick and kill” approach. We kick the HIV out of their hiding places and then kill them.
During the 20th International AIDS Conference held in 2014, a paper was presented on an anti-cancer drug that seemed to be able to kick the HIV out of its hiding place! Studies are still going on but we remain hopeful. Also hopefully we can find even more medicines that can kick the HIV out of hiding. I heard of a company studying some bee venom that can also do it but I have yet to see any detailed reports.
Meanwhile, please remember that although HIV cannot be cured, it can be controlled very well. People infected with HIV live normal life spans. In fact they live very healthy and productive lives. Like I said in my previous article, it may be worse to have Diabetes than HIV.
Of course, ideally you do not want to get infected with HIV in the first place. So remember:
- Always use condoms
- Do not share needles
- If you get into an accident (eg condom broke) please see us about PEP
- If you feel you might be getting into risky situations, please see us about PrEP
And remember to always go for regular HIV testing.
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About Dr. Tan
Dr. Tan graduated from the National University of Singapore in 2001. His residency was in the two largest public hospitals in Singapore; Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Singapore General Hospital.