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Survival of HIV Infected People

May 4, 2001

Hi. I've been browsing this site and other HIV/AIDS sites for weeks now learning all I can about HIV. I'm currently waiting on PCR test results after having had a negative ELISA result at three months after a low-risk encounter (receptive oral sex on another man). I'm kind of happy. But in all my research about HIV, I am suddenly aware that there is one thing I do not know and of which I am apparently ignorant. At first, I thought that all people who contract HIV die within a few years. Needless to say, I was either emotionally numb or emotionally wrecked for weeks after coming to my senses about my less-than-safe sexual behavior. Now, I've read stories from people who have lived with HIV for 20 years. I've read that the amount of virus in the body can be controlled down to undetectable levels. I've read that HIV infection is a chronic, but manageable disease. If you could answer my simple question I would be grateful. I would just like to know how long is the life expectancy--after infection with HIV--of a person who is under treatment for HIV and who follows his or her treatment regimen religiously (assuming the person is infected with HIV-1)? From what I've read, life doesn't end after getting HIV. But I would really like to know how much life is left.

Response from Dr. Young

Life expectancy is a very difficult question to answer accurately, but we have seen some very dramatic changes in the past several years. Without treatment, the typical survival with HIV infection was about 10 years. There were always a few lucky ones who were termed "long term non progressors"; people who wer alive and well, 10-15 years after initial infection. With contemporary treatments and religious level adherence to complex medications, we can estimate that the survival of the typical person with HIV might be measured in decades, perhaps 20-30 years or more. There also remains the hope that continued research will provide improved treatments (more potent, easier to take, etc) that might further improve the survival and quality of life for those infected with HIV.


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