Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) was first detected in Canada more than 30 years ago. Since then, thousands of Canadians continue to become infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) every year.

HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, resulting in a chronic, progressive illness that leaves people vulnerable to infections. When the body can no longer fight infection, the disease has progressed to become AIDS.

At Humber Green Pharmacy, our pharmacist involved in HIV care, it is important that he/she reviews the following with the patients:

1. Treatment

Treatment involves three or more antiretrovirals. There are various classes of antiretrovirals currently available.

2. Adherence

Adherence is the most important factor in HIV treatment success. Missing doses (i.e. entire days or not taking all pills) can lead to resistance and further complicate treatment choices.

  • All or Nothing Rule – the prescribed antiretroviral regimen must be given in its entirety to ensure the virus is being treated adequately. Even if only ONE of the medications is missing, then none of the other meds should be given. This will minimize opportunities for resistance.
  • Timing – Ideally, it is best to take the pills around the same time each day to create a routine and ensure even drug levels; however, if it’s late, it is ok to take a daily dose as soon as you remember within the same day. Do not double doses to catch up.

3. Resistance

Resistance – The HIV virus can change into a different form, which is not easily controlled by the current regimen. Cross-resistance may also result in the virus becoming resistant to other medications the patient has never taken before but might need in the future. Resistance can arise from poor adherence, long-term use of the same regimen or contracting a resistant virus from a new source. The doctor can order blood tests to confirm viral resistance to specific medications.

4. Side Effects

Side Effects – Do not stop HIV medications in response to side effects. Consult with the doctor or the pharmacist before stopping medications.  The pharmacist can give advice on how to manage side effects or how to decrease the chances of HIV resistance.

5. Drug Interactions

Drug Interactions – Prescription and non-prescription medications, herbal products and street drugs can interact with HIV medications. Always consult Humber Green pharmacist before taking any other medication to ensure drug interactions with antiretrovirals are avoided or managed appropriately.