HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is the virus responsible for AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). First identified in 1983, this virus progressively destroys or damages cells in the immune system, making its host vulnerable to certain cancers and infections. So-called "opportunistic infections"—caused by microorganisms that do not ordinarily cause illness in healthy people—can have serious, or even fatal, effects on those with HIV.
Within a month or two of exposure, HIV may cause short-term flu-like symptoms, followed by a symptom-free period lasting months to years during which the virus continues to multiply. After this stage, people with HIV may develop swollen lymph nodes, recurrent herpes sores, diarrhea, weight loss, and/or chronic yeast infections (oral or vaginal)—a state previously called AIDS-related complex or ARC. Children may experience delayed development or failure to thrive. The infection is called AIDS when the number of immune cells known as CD4+ or helper t-cells drops below a certain level, or when opportunistic diseases such as Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia develop. Today, both ARC and AIDS are sometimes collectively called symptomatic HIV infection.
HIV is spread most commonly through unsafe sexual practices or by intravenous drug abuse. Mothers can infect their babies before or during birth, or later through breast-feeding.
Today, effective medications have helped to turn HIV infection from a death sentence to a manageable illness. None of the treatments described here can substitute for standard care.
The outcome of one study suggests that individualized homeopathic treatment might be helpful in HIV; however, these results were too preliminary to be relied upon.
A 6-month, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 80 people evaluated the effects of treatment with an individualized homeopathic remedy on the progression of HIV infection.1 The remedy was assigned based on the classic homeopathic symptom picture. Participants took the remedy or placebo for 6 months. Researchers then performed blood tests to measure CD4+ and CD8+ counts (standard indicators of HIV progression).
The group of participants with more advanced symptoms (persistent generalized lymphadenopathy, CDC stage III) showed a significant increase in CD4+ counts with homeopathic treatment. However, homeopathic treatment did not benefit a group without symptoms (CDC stage II). The investigators suggest that the study time was too short to evaluate effectiveness in asymptomatic HIV since the CD4+ counts can change very slowly over time.
In any case, because of the division into small subgroups with more and less severe illness, the results of this study are difficult to rely upon. Larger trials would be necessary to reliably identify a benefit with homeopathic treatment.
HIV is a complex illness with many possible symptoms. For this reason, there is no group of homeopathic remedies that can be discussed here as representative of common classical approaches.