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HIV cure

There is currently no cure for HIV, which means we can’t completely remove it from the body.  

However, scientists around the world are researching how to make a cure for HIV. 

Antiretroviral treatment is not a cure, but it does control the virus. It means that people with HIV can live long and healthy lives. 

Is there a cure for HIV?

No, we are still waiting on a cure for HIV to be found. However, cure research is moving fast. In the meantime, people on antiretroviral treatment have near-normal life expectancy. 

What are scientists working on for a cure?

Cure research is still at an early stage, but it is promising. Scientists are working on two types of research – a ‘functional cure’ and a ‘sterilising cure’. See the ‘In detail’ tab for more information. 

What should I do until there is a cure?

Until there is a cure, people with HIV must take treatment. This can reduce the level of HIV in your body to such a low amount that you are unable to pass it on (an undetectable viral load). 

Myths

Here we share the truth about some common HIV cure myths. Remember... treatment is the only way to keep yourself healthy when you have HIV. 

Does having sex with a virgin cure HIV?

No. Having sex with a virgin will put them at risk of being infected with HIV if protection isn’t used. It is also a criminal offence to have sex with those under the age of consent, or those who have not consented to sex. 

Can natural, herbal or alternative medicines cure HIV?

No. There is no natural, herbal or alternative cure for HIV. Antiretroviral treatment is the only medication that can control HIV. Taking herbal medicines can be dangerous as they will not protect your immune system from the damage caused by HIV. Some herbal medicines can also make antiretroviral treatment less effective. 

Can a higher power, prayers or spells cure HIV?

No. Faith helps many people to deal with the difficulties of having HIV. But taking antiretroviral treatment is the only way you can stay healthy. Religion can be good for support, but you should also visit your healthcare worker for treatment and medical advice and take treatment as prescribed.

Are you cured if you have an undetectable viral load?

No. Some people who take their treatment well can achieve a viral load so low that it is called ‘undetectable’. This also means they can’t pass HIV on to others. However, this doesn’t mean that they’re cured, as HIV is still present in their body. 

Does having no symptoms mean you’re cured?

No. HIV can exist in the body without displaying any symptoms for up to 10 or 15 years. So, you may have the virus for some time and feel fine. If you are on treatment and don’t have any symptoms, then your treatment is working at keeping your immune system strong. 

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Why is it so hard to find a cure for HIV?

Due to the complex nature and structure of HIV, locating and quantifying the amount of virus in the body is very difficult. 

HIV evades the immune system by staying dormant in infected T-cells until they are activated to respond to infections. This state is called latent infection. Some of these cells may live for decades without becoming activated. Cells that are latently infected are described as the `HIV reservoir`.  

Detecting and eliminating these cells are the biggest challenges facing cure research. 

What is a functional cure?

A functional cure would reduce the amount of HIV in the body to such low levels that it can’t be detected or make you ill. But, it wouldn’t completely get rid of the virus. 

Some people think that ART is a functional cure. However, most agree that a true functional cure would suppress the virus without the need for people to take treatment for the rest of their lives. 

There are a few examples of people considered to have been functionally cured, such as the Mississipi Baby. But, in all these cases the virus has re-emerged. Most of these people received antiretroviral treatment very quickly after infection or birth. 

What is a sterilising cure?

A sterilising cure eradicates HIV from the body completely, including from hidden reservoirs. 

There are only two people who have been cured in this way: Timothy Brown, also known as the 'Berlin patient', and Adam Castillejo, known as the ‘London patient’. 

In 2007-08, Brown had chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant to treat leukaemia. His transplant came from someone with a natural genetic resistance to HIV. Following the transplant, Brown appeared to be cured of HIV. Doctors later replicated the results on Castillejo. In 2020 they confirmed that, 30 months after stopping treatment, he was still HIV-free. 

Despite the promising results from both cases, this type of procedure would not be suitable for most people living with HIV. This is because bone marrow transplants are very invasive and risky. 

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  • Last updated: 22 March 2022
  • Last full review: 01 March 2022
  • Next full review: 01 March 2025
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