Life Expectancy Keeps Rising for People With HIV, Particularly When They Start Treatment Early, Study Finds

The newest generations of antiretroviral drugs continue to improve the outlook for people newly diagnosed with HIV, according to a recent report. Those living with HIV can now expect to live longer and healthier than ever before, and there is new evidence to prove it -- particularly for people who don't wait too long before they begin treatment.

Says The Independent in an article published on Oct. 12 ,

Research published in the British Medical Journal today shows that the average 20-year-old diagnosed with HIV can now expect to live to their mid-60s. The same person diagnosed in the mid-1990s had a life expectancy to age 50. That improvement is down to modern combination drugs that keep the virus in check.

From a killer infection that cut down millions of young men and women in their prime, HIV/Aids has been transformed into a chronic disease that people live with, rather than die from.

Of more than 17,000 individuals who took part in the study (all of whom lived in the United Kingdom), those who began antiretroviral treatment with a CD4 count around 350 had an even longer life-expectancy, averaging around 75 years. That's within just a few years of the average life span of the British population as a whole.

However, many people still don't begin treatment until their CD4 counts are well below 350. As a result, overall life expectancy in the study was lower. As aidsmap notes in its summary of the study findings:

[P]rognosis differed by gender, and was significantly better for women than men. Overall, life expectancy for a 20-year-old woman was an additional 50 years compared to 40 years for men.

HIV-positive patients had a significantly shorter life expectancy than individuals in the general population. A HIV-negative 20-year-old woman would be expected to survive until she was 82 years old and an HIV-negative man until he was 78.

"Compared with the same sex in the general UK population, for patients undergoing treatment for HIV infection, life expectancy at age 20 was 18.3 years less for men and 11.4 years less for women," write the investigators.

They note "the prevalence of smoking, drug misuse, and alcoholism are all higher among people with HIV, which leads to increased deaths from cardiovascular disease, cancer, liver disease, suicide, overdose and injury."Meanwhile, a recent report by the UK's House of Lords Select Committee on HIV and AIDS showed a near doubling of HIV infections among youths over the past decade, suggesting a decrease in vigilance by youths at risk of contracting the virus. As The Independent states, the report cited a total of 3,780 HIV cases in 2010, up by 1,830 since 2001.

Lord Norman Fowler, who chaired the committee, warned:

"In the last 25 years the development of new drugs has dramatically reduced the death toll but that should not encourage a false sense of security. Prevention must be the key policy."