The use of antiviral medications offers treatment for a host of life-threatening conditions; some types of antiviral medications are known as antiretrovirals, as they target viruses whose genetic makeup is found in RNA as opposed to DNA. The retrovirus infects a cell and uses a special enzyme to, first, change its RNA to DNA, and second, incorporate that DNA with the DNA of the cell it has infected. The virus is then able to adapt and replicate unlike other viruses. One of the most common forms of retrovirus is the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, the infection causing AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).
Antiretroviral therapy is effective because it stops the virus from replicating within the host's cells. In doing so, the viral load, or the amount of the virus present in the host, is dramatically reduced. This then results in the immune system becoming stronger and more able to fight off other types of infections. Antiretroviral therapy enables the body's immune system to continue to fight to protect the body; without this therapeutic intervention, the immune system simply becomes weaker and weaker, ultimately giving in to illnesses that are otherwise preventable in those with healthy immune systems.
Antiretroviral therapy enables people with certain conditions, including HIV/AIDS to live long, healthy lives - but this treatment method is not without its complications. Short-term side effects vary from individual to individual, but can include diarrhea, insomnia, or muscle pain; long-term side effects can include depression, liver or kidney damage, or heart disease. The majority of the side effects associated with antiretroviral therapy are entirely treatable and, as a result, make the benefits of this therapeutic intervention far more significant than the potential drawbacks.