Early HIV Treatment May Boost Immune System Recovery, Study Shows
Promptly starting combination drug therapy after HIV infection may be optimal to aid immune system recovery, according to a new Australian study published in the journal AIDS, Reuters Health reports. Dr. Gilbert Kaufmann and colleagues at the Sydney-based National Center in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research note that some evidence shows that early combination therapy, usually including a protease inhibitor, may prevent irreversible immune system damage caused by HIV. But because of the drugs' short-term side effects and increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, "more convincing proof of the benefits of early treatment are needed," the researchers noted. For one year, the researchers compared the immune system benefits of combination therapy in 28 men with "acute" infections, or those who had been infected within the previous six months, with 30 men who had "chronic" HIV infections. None of the men had taken HIV drugs prior to the study. The drug therapy suppressed HIV to "undetectable levels" in both groups, researchers found, but the T cell levels "rebounded significantly more" in acute patients, particularly in the first three months of treatment. Although recently infected patients initially had fewer T cells than those with chronic infections, following treatment 93% had a normal T cell count compared to only 37% of chronically infected individuals. In addition, the report revealed that chronic patients had "extremely" low levels of "naive T cells," a sign that the immune system is not completely recovered. Kaufmann told Reuters Health, "Early therapy therefore may allow for a much better reconstitution of the immune system. However, it is unknown whether therapy has to be initiated in the first weeks of the infection or how long treatment can be delayed. This crucial issue needs to be addressed in a future study." The study was funded in part by several drug makers, including Merck, Agouron, GlaxoWellcome and Bristol-Myers Squibb (Reuters Health, 1/8).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.