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Medical News

HIV-Related Dementia Common in Africa, Study Finds

February 1, 2007

A new study revealed 31 percent of HIV patients in Uganda had AIDS-related dementia. This alarmingly high rate could mean HIV/AIDS is one of the leading causes of dementia in the world, alongside Alzheimer's disease and strokes.

"If the rate we saw in our study translates across sub-Saharan Africa, we're looking at more than 8 million people in this region with HIV dementia," said Dr. Ned Sacktor, a neurologist at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University and a study co-author. "It's obvious if you just look at the numbers -- 27 million people [HIV-] infected in Africa. If anywhere close to 30 percent of those have dementia… certainly it would be among the more common forms of dementia," he said.

Of the 178 people the researchers studied from September 2003 to January 2004, 100 were healthy adults and 78 were HIV-positive. Of those with HIV, around 25 had dementia. None of the HIV-negative people had it, Sacktor said.

Doctors have long known that HIV can cause dementia, most likely by destroying brain cells. While antiretroviral medicines can prevent or slow this progression, only 20 percent of HIV patients worldwide are receiving the drugs. HIV-related dementia affects people at a much younger age than Alzheimer's usually does, and it has even been reported in children.

"They have memory problems," Sacktor said of patients with HIV dementia. "They are very slow in responding to questions. They can have motor coordination problems. They have gait difficulties. They can have mood disturbances such as depression. They can have apathy, very little interest in doing things."

"Clearly, large-scale testing would have to be conducted before we know the global reach of HIV dementia, but this study sends a clear message that it exists in high proportions in sub-Saharan Africa and is an under-recognized condition that needs to be studied and treated," said Sacktor.

The study, "Frequency of and Risk Factors for HIV Dementia in an HIV Clinic in Sub-Saharan Africa," was published in the journal Neurology (2007;68:350-355).

Back to other news for February 1, 2007

Adapted from:
01.29.2007; Maggie Fox

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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