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Researchers: Modern HIV Drugs Add 10 Years to Life Expectancy

Modern drugs are less taxing on the body and have fewer side effects.

Young people living with HIV could live up to a decade longer, researchers say, thanks to improvements in antiretroviral drug therapy.

The study, conducted by researchers at Bristol University in the UK, found that 20-year-olds starting ARV therapy in 2010 are likely to live up to 10 years longer than those who began taking the drugs in 1996 when they first became widely available.

Researchers say the longer life expectancy is attributable to improvements in drug therapy. Modern ARV medications are less taxing to the body and less likely to cause severe side-effects. Modern HIV patients have access to stronger, more effective medications and need to take fewer pills.

ARV therapy is based upon the combined efforts of three or more drugs that prevent the HIV virus from replicating within the body and damaging the immune system. Modern drugs prevent spread of the disease by as much as 96 percent and lower the levels of virus inside the body.

Bristol researchers analyzed data on more than 88,500 HIV patients in 18 European and North American studies. The team found that between 1996 and 2013 the life expectancy for 20-year-olds who started treatment increased by 10 years for women and nine years for men.

The study predicted that 20-year-old men starting ARV therapy between 2008 and 2010 – assuming they were healthy enough to survive the first year of treatment, would live to age 73, with women living on average to age 76.

The figures are not as good for those who became infected with HIV through injecting drugs. Many drug users need treatment for addiction and hepatitis C, researchers reported, and therefore are less likely to respond as well to HIV drug therapy.