HIV-Positive People Appear to Live Longer When Infected With Harmless Virus, Researchers at Retrovirus Conference Say
HIV-positive people who are also infected with the common virus GBV-C appear to live longer than HIV-positive individuals who do not carry the other virus, researchers at the 10th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections said yesterday, the Washington Post reports (Brown, Washington Post, 2/14). GBV-C is a close biological relative of hepatitis C, but it causes no symptoms (Smith, Boston Globe, 2/14). Researchers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease examined the effects of GBV-C in 271 gay men who participated in the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study, which has periodically tested and examined HIV-positive gay men over the past 20 years. All participants had recently been infected with HIV, and 40% had GBV-C present in their samples, while 50% had antibodies for GBV-C, meaning that they had once been infected but had cleared the infection (Brown, Washington Post, 2/14). Researchers found that 79% of the men carrying GBV-C were still alive after 10 years, compared with 36% of the men who tested negative for GBV-C, and only 16% of men who had cleared the virus survived at least 10 years. So far, eight clinical studies have found a "beneficial association" between GBV-C and HIV, the Boston Globe reports (Boston Globe, 2/14). However, researchers said that further studies are needed to examine the "importance" of the link between the virus and HIV before "it could have any effect in AIDS care," and they added that if research supports the link, they might try to find a protein that could "mimic" GBV-C infection to help HIV/AIDS patients, according to the New York Times (Altman, New York Times, 2/14).
Possible Link Between AIDS Drugs, Heart Attack
Some types of antiretroviral drugs increase the risk of heart attacks, according to another study presented at the conference, the Los Angeles Times reports (Maugh, Los Angeles Times, 2/14). Researchers from Hvidovre University Hospital in Copenhagen examined 23,468 HIV-positive men and women with a median age of 39 and found that 126 had heart attacks, 36 of which were fatal. Although the number seems "relatively small," researchers found that the risk of individual heart attack for patients taking antiretroviral drugs increases 26% each year, Dr. Friis Moller of the Copenhagen HIV Program said, according to Long Island Newsday. Several other studies presented at the conference also showed a "sharp" increase in cardiovascular disease for patients on antiretroviral drugs, including a three-year Johns Hopkins School of Medicine study that found that 89 of 6,711 HIV-positive patients had severe cardiovascular disease and that protease inhibitor drugs "doubled" cardiac risk (Garrett, Long Island Newsday, 2/14). Dr. Jens Lundgren of the Copenhagen study said that although "[t]hese are relatively rare events ... [p]atients should be monitored very carefully and encouraged to make lifestyle changes to lower their risk," adding, "But we have to remind ourselves that [antiretroviral therapy] has produced dramatic improvements in survival" (Los Angeles Times, 2/14).
New CD4+ T Cell Test
A portable rapid test that measures CD4+ T cells in HIV/AIDS patients could be available "for less than $1 in poor countries," making it easier to identify patients who are in need of treatment, the Wall Street Journal reports. William Rodriguez, a Harvard Medical School professor and Massachusetts General Hospital AIDS researcher, released findings for a "prototype" of the device at the conference. The device -- the size of a postage stamp -- captures and then counts the number of CD4+ T cells in a patient's immune system. The device, which still needs a commercial manufacturer, uses a microchip to collect and sort immune system cells. The chip is then inserted into a handheld device that takes a picture, reads and analyzes the image to provide a CD4+ T cell count in approximately 10 minutes, according to the Journal (Wall Street Journal, 2/14).