August 7, 2006
A recent study said HIV/AIDS combination therapy drugs remain effective ten years after their introduction, but many patients are not put on them soon enough. Despite experts' fears that HIV/AIDS would become resistant to treatment and deaths would increase, the scientists said that has not happened.
The study found that drug combinations reduce mortality and progression AIDS by about 80-90 percent, but TB has become a dangerous co-infection in some patients. "Ten years on these treatments still work as well as they did initially [but] there is a change in terms of TB becoming more important," Professor Matthias Egger of Switzerland's University of Bern said in an interview. He added that if people were diagnosed and started treatment earlier, the drugs "would achieve even more."
The findings in the study derive from data on more than 22,000 HIV patients in Europe and North America who started treatment between 1995 and 2003. Egger, a study co-author, said there is widespread consensus that patients should start treatment when their CD4 cell counts drop below 350 or when the patient shows symptoms of illness. The research showed the median cell count for starting treatment increased from 170 in 1995-1996 to 269 in 1998, then dropped to around 200. The study noted that people who start treatment with a CD4 count less than 200 have a higher risk of progression to AIDS than patients with a higher baseline count.
The article, "HIV Treatment Response and Prognosis in Europe and North America in the First Decade of Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy: A Collaborative Analysis," appeared in The Lancet (2006;368(9534):451-458).