A new study suggests that HIV infected people should start AIDS drug treatment sooner than previously recommended.

Under current treatment guidelines, drug treatment for HIV-infected patients is only advised when their T-cell counts fall below 350.

The new research, however, suggests that patients with HIV may have less risk of dying if they go on an AIDS drug regime sooner.

Doctors traditionally avoid prescribing anti-HIV drugs for as long as possible because of potential negative side effects.

For the study, US and Canadian researchers examined the records of 8,374 HIV-infected participants with T-cell counts of between 351 and 500. Around 30% went on a drug regime immediately while 70% waited until their T-cell counts fell below 350.

The researchers found a 71 percent higher risk of death for patients who deferred treatment, suggesting that therapy should begin at an earlier stage of HIV disease than currently recommended.

The researchers warned that a clinical trial will be necessary to confirm the finding and to support possible changes to established treatment guidelines.

The findings were presented on Sunday at the joint annual meeting of the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy and the Infectious Diseases Society of America in Washington, D.C.

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