Guidelines for using antiretroviral agents among HIV-infected adults and adolescents

Ann Intern Med. 2002 Sep 3;137(5 Pt 2):381-433. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-137-5_part_2-200209031-00001.


The availability of an increasing number of antiretroviral agents and the rapid evolution of new information have introduced substantial complexity into treatment regimens for persons infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In 1996, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation convened the Panel on Clinical Practices for the Treatment of HIV to develop guidelines for clinical management of HIV-infected adults and adolescents (CDC. Report of the NIH Panel To Define Principles of Therapy of HIV Infection and Guidelines for the use of antiretroviral agents in HIV-infected adults and adolescents. MMWR. 1998;47[RR-5]:1-41). This report, which updates the 1998 guidelines, addresses 1) using testing for plasma HIV ribonucleic acid levels (i.e., viral load) and CD4+ T cell count; 2) using testing for antiretroviral drug resistance; 3) considerations for when to initiate therapy; 4) adherence to antiretroviral therapy; 5) considerations for therapy among patients with advanced disease; 6) therapy-related adverse events; 7) interruption of therapy; 8) considerations for changing therapy and available therapeutic options; 9) treatment for acute HIV infection; 10) considerations for antiretroviral therapy among adolescents; 11) considerations for antiretroviral therapy among pregnant women; and 12) concerns related to transmission of HIV to others. Antiretroviral regimens are complex, have serious side effects, pose difficulty with adherence, and carry serious potential consequences from the development of viral resistance because of nonadherence to the drug regimen or suboptimal levels of antiretroviral agents. Patient education and involvement in therapeutic decisions are critical. Treatment should usually be offered to all patients with symptoms ascribed to HIV infection. Recommendations for offering antiretroviral therapy among asymptomatic patients require analysis of real and potential risks and benefits. In general, treatment should be offered to persons who have <350 CD4+ T cells/mm3 or plasma HIV ribonucleic acid (RNA) levels of >55,000 copies/mL (by b-deoxyribonucleic acid [bDNA] or reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction [RT-PCR] assays). The recommendation to treat asymptomatic patients should be based on the willingness and readiness of the person to begin therapy; the degree of existing immunodeficiency as determined by the CD4+ T cell count; the risk for disease progression as determined by the CD4+ T cell count and level of plasma HIV RNA; the potential benefits and risks of initiating therapy in an asymptomatic person; and the likelihood, after counseling and education, of adherence to the prescribed treatment regimen. Treatment goals should be maximal and durable suppression of viral load, restoration and preservation of immunologic function, improvement of quality of life, and reduction of HIV-related morbidity and mortality. Results of therapy are evaluated through plasma HIV RNA levels, which are expected to indicate a 1.0 log10 decrease at 2-8 weeks and no detectable virus (<50 copies/mL) at 4-6 months after treatment initiation. Failure of therapy at 4-6 months might be ascribed to nonadherence, inadequate potency of drugs or suboptimal levels of antiretroviral agents, viral resistance, and other factors that are poorly understood. Patients whose therapy fails in spite of a high level of adherence to the regimen should have their regimen changed; this change should be guided by a thorough drug treatment history and the results of drug-resistance testing. Because of limitations in the available alternative antiretroviral regimens that have documented efficacy, optimal changes in therapy might be difficult to achieve for patients in whom the preferred regimen has failed. These decisions are further confounded by problems with adherence, toxicity, and resistance. For certain patients, participating in a clinical trial with or without access to new drugs or using a regimen that might not achieve complete suppression of viral replicatioing a regimen that might not achieve complete suppression of viral replication might be preferable. Because concepts regarding HIV management are evolving rapidly, readers should check regularly for additional information and updates at the HIV/AIDS Treatment Information Service website ( ).

Publication types

  • Guideline
  • Practice Guideline

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anti-HIV Agents / adverse effects
  • Anti-HIV Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antiretroviral Therapy, Highly Active / adverse effects
  • Antiretroviral Therapy, Highly Active / standards*
  • CD4 Lymphocyte Count
  • Counseling
  • Drug Resistance, Viral
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • HIV Infections / immunology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Compliance
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / drug therapy
  • Viral Load


  • Anti-HIV Agents