HIV life expectancy ‘near normal’ because of new drugs

According to The Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and best known general medical journals, young people using the latest HIV drugs now have ‘near-normal’ life expectancy.

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The study, entitled “Survival of HIV-positive patients starting antiretroviral therapy between 1996 and 2013: a collaborative analysis of cohort studies,” analyzed data from 18 European and North American HIV-1 cohorts, and found that 20-year-old patients who started antiretroviral therapy in 2010 are projected to live ten (10) years longer than those patients first using the therapy in 1996.

Antiretroviral Therapy

According to the study, “[f]or 20 years, combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) has been the standard approach to treating HIV-1 infection in Europe and North America. The first ART regimens were inferior to those currently available, which better suppress HIV replication, are less toxic, and have higher genetic barriers to resistance, reduced pill burden (often one a day), and fewer side-effects.”

Treatment Success

ART treatment has been so successful that in many parts of the world HIV has become a chronic condition, in which progression to AIDS is increasingly rare. Anthony Fauci, head of the United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has written, “With collective and resolute action now and a steadfast commitment for years to come, an AIDS-free generation is indeed within reach.”

HIV life expectancy

The recent study looked at 88,500 patients with HIV from Europe and North America, and predicted their life expectancies based on death rates during the first three (3) years of follow-up after ART treatment was started. The study found that significantly fewer people who started treatment between 2008 and 2010 died during this period compared with those who began treatment between 1996 and 2007. In fact, the expected age at death of a 20-year-old patient who started ART after 2008, with a low viral load and after the first year of treatment, was 78 years — comparable to that of the general population.

Remaining Challenges

Although it’s a tremendous medical achievement that an infection that once had such a terrible prognosis is now so manageable, HIV diagnosis in the general population still remains a challenge. One in eight people with HIV is still thought to remain undiagnosed, even though this proportion of people with undiagnosed HIV has fallen steadily over the past 20 years.

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