Study Shows Decreased Risk of Death From Opportunistic Infections With Earlier Antiretroviral Treatment
HIV-positive people with opportunistic infections who receive earlier antiretroviral treatment lower their risk of death compared with people who delay treatment, according to a new study conducted by the Stanford University School of Medicine and published in PLoS One, the San Jose Mercury News reports. The findings could lead to changes in recommendations for antiretroviral treatment protocol, specifically for patients diagnosed with HIV at an advanced stage, the Mercury News reports.
The study included 262 HIV-positive participants at 39 health care sites across the U.S., and 20 participants in South Africa. During the yearlong study, the researchers found that among the participants who were treated promptly after developing an opportunistic infection, 14% died or developed another infection. The researchers also found that 24% of participants who deferred treatment for an average of 45 days died or had a decrease in health outcomes.
According to the Mercury News, the question of when to start HIV-positive people on antiretroviral treatment remains unclear because of issues such as the high cost of medicines, side effects, and drug interactions or resistance. Andrew Zolopa, head of Stanford University School of Medicine's division of infectious diseases and lead investigator of the study, said that physicians often treat HIV-positive people for an "acute crisis, then follow up later with treatment for HIV." He continues, "But that answer is wrong. The study shows very clearly that there is no safety downside to doing this -- and the benefit is quite substantial, reducing death by 50%."
"Even in San Francisco, one of the first epicenters of HIV in the United States, we still find that many people present late in the course of their illness with an opportunistic infection," Mitch Katz, director of San Francisco's Department of Health who was not involved in the study, said. He added, "This study shows that it is lifesaving to treat those persons with antiretroviral drugs while they are still in the hospital." Katz said that the results could lead to changes in HIV/AIDS practices worldwide. The International AIDS Society, CDC and the British AIDS Society have developed guidelines recommending that early antiretroviral treatment be considered in patients with opportunistic infections, Zolopa said. In addition, NIH is considering an international study to examine earlier initiation of antiretroviral treatment involving more than 9,000 people from both developed and developing countries (Krieger, San Jose Mercury News, 5/15).
The study is available online.