HIV infection begins when the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is transmitted via contact with infected body fluids such as blood or semen. HIV targets the immune system, invading T helper cells—white blood cells that fight infection. First, the virus attaches to the cell, injecting its genetic blueprint—contained on viral RNA wrapped in protein shells—into the cell. Viral RNA uses an enzyme, reverse transcriptase, to make viral DNA. The DNA enters the T cell’s nucleus, hijacking the cell’s replication machinery so it can make copies of the virus.

While there is no cure for HIV, medications are prescribed to stop HIV from replicating, so patients can manage the condition and live healthy lives. (These medications do not prevent the person-to-person spread of HIV.) 

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If you have questions about your medications, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider. 

Multi-Class Combination Drugs

These medications combine drugs from different groups into one complete regimen. If your doctor prescribes you one of these medications, you take one tablet per day. Side effects and doses can vary by individual; you and your doctor can decide whether one of these drug combinations is right for you.

Nucleoside/Nucleotide Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTIs)

Both NRTIs and NNRTIs interrupt the life cycle of an HIV-infected cell as it tries to replicate itself.  They do this by inhibiting the reverse transcriptase, which is an enzyme HIV uses to convert RNA to DNA. Inhibiting the reverse transcriptase prevents HIV from replicating in the body.  

Learn more about NRTIs for HIV »

Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NNRTIs) 

Both NRTIs and NNRTIs interrupt the life cycle of an HIV-infected cell as it tries to replicate itself.  They do this by inhibiting the reverse transcriptase, which is an enzyme HIV uses to convert RNA to DNA. Inhibiting the reverse transcriptase prevents HIV from replicating in the body.  

Protease Inhibitors

Protease inhibitors selectively bind to protease, a protein that HIV needs in order to replicate in the body. When protease is unable to do its job, the virus cannot complete the process of generating new copies that can infect more cells.  

Learn how protease inhibitors work to reduce the amount of HIV virus in your body »

Entry Inhibitors (including Fusion Inhibitors)

Entry inhibitors are a class of HIV medications that work by blocking the entry of the virus into a host T cell. This prevents the virus from replicating itself. These drugs also prevent the destruction of targeted cells, which preserves immune system function. However, the virus may eventually develop resistance to individual drugs. 

Integrase Inhibitors

Integrase inhibitors are a class of medication designed to inhibit the action of integrase, a viral enzyme that HIV uses to infect CD4+ T cells.

Immune-Based Therapies