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Tuesday, December 1, 1998 Published at 01:07 GMT


Young confused over HIV treatments

Aids drugs can combat the disease, but they are no cure

One in six young people in the UK mistakenly believes new HIV treatments can stop the virus being passed on, according to a new survey.

The survey for World Aids Day was conducted by the Health Education Authority and the National Aids Trust.

It shows that 16% of 16- to 24-year-olds agreed with a statement that anti-Aids drugs can stop the virus being transmitted.

A further 13% said they did not know if the statement was true or false.

Another study by Brook Advisory Centres showed young people were willing to take risks with unsafe sex, thinking they were invulnerable.

Keith Winestein of the National Aids Trust said: "There is still no cure for Aids and no vaccine against HIV. While HIV treatments may reduce the levels of the virus in the body, there is no evidence of a 'safe' level of HIV.

"Condoms are still the best way to avoid HIV and other sexually transmitted infections when you have sex."

Confusion

Health workers are becoming worried about people's confusion over articles about the success of HIV treatments.

A report last week showed that Aids death rates in Europe had fallen by 80% since 1995 because of the new cocktails of HIV drugs.

The Terrence Higgins Trust said people assumed taking the drugs was easy when it might involve a strict routine and taking up to 15 tablets a day.

This could include the anti-Aids drugs as well as other pills for opportunistic infections connected to the disease.

The drugs also have painful side effects, including nausea, and must be taken at specific times during the day and on either a full or empty stomach.

This makes socialising difficult.

The THT added that, although the drugs reduced the virus to almost invisible levels in some people, this did not mean that it was not there and it could not infect others.

Moreover, the drugs do not work for all people and no-one knows whether they will keep working for those who find them effective.

The virus is very adaptable and many people are finding it becomes resistant to certain drugs, meaning they have to keep trying new combinations.

"The drugs are not a cure as people have to keep taking them. No-one wants to take the risk of coming off them," said a spokeswoman.

Immunotherapy

Although there are no vaccines or cures for Aids at present, scientists in London are working on a combination of immunotherapy drugs and anti-HIV drugs which they believe could deal a knock-out blow to Aids.

The scientists, led by Professor Frances Gotch of the Imperial College School of Medicine, say anti-HIV drugs can reduce the virus to low levels, but the immune system is so compromised by the disease that it cannot get rid of the virus entirely.

Boosting the immune system could therefore help it to fight back.



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