"We prove for the first time that antiretroviral therapy may be intensified by a vaccine," said lead researcher Barbara Ensoli from the Italian National AIDS Centre at the Istituto Superiore di Sanita in Rome, Italy.

"These results open new scenarios to investigate, namely whether this vaccine may help with virus control where patients have low adherence to antiretroviral therapy, simplify treatment, and reduce transmission of the disease," Ensol noted.

When people are first diagnosed with HIV they are put on antiretroviral drugs, also known as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). These drugs can stop the virus reproducing almost completely. When taking HAART, however, it is known that the virus can still replicate at low levels and accumulate in a latent form in what are called "reservoirs".

The new study has now found that a vaccine that targets the viral protein "Tat", which is produced early on in HIV infection, can increase effectiveness of these drugs used in current HIV treatment.

The study was published in the open-access journal Retrovirology.

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