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Headlines Published on 30 April 2012

Title Life expectancy for HIV patients improving

Life expectancy for HIV patients treated with antiretroviral drugs, now considered common course in treating the virus, can expect to live considerably longer lives, new research from the United Kingdom shows. This study was funded in part by the EUROCOORD ('European network of HIV/AIDS cohort studies to coordinate at European and international level clinical research on HIV/AIDS') project, which is backed with EUR 12 million under the Health Theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). EUROCOORD brings together a number of other networks, all of which have played a central role in developing our understanding, progression and treatment of HIV.

HIV cells in bloodstream: combination antiretroviral therapy is having positive results on the lifespan of HIV patients © Shutterstock
HIV cells in bloodstream: combination antiretroviral therapy is having positive results on the lifespan of HIV patients
©  Shutterstock

The efforts of healthcare professionals treating HIV patients are bearing fruit. In this latest study, a British team of researchers was able to discern that HIV patients aged 20, who started antiretroviral treatments 16 years ago, could expect to live to an average age of 50. Life expectancy, however, jumps to 66 for subjects in the same group who began their treatment just 4 years ago. The sample was made up of 17 661 adults aged 20 and over who had HIV and had started antiretroviral treatment in the United Kingdom between 1996 and 2008.

The study also discovered that HIV patients had a lower life expectancy when they began their antiretroviral treatment later in life. It should be noted that the average life expectancy of a person with HIV being treated with antiretrovirals was still shorter than that of a similarly aged person in the general population.

HIV is a pressing matter in Europe; it is currently estimated that more than 1.5 million Europeans are infected with HIV. In 2007, it was estimated that 100 000 people were newly infected with the disease, but the outcome for HIV patients has dramatically improved in countries where patients have access to combination antiretroviral therapy (cART). Healthcare professionals stress, however, that cART is not a cure for HIV and once a patient begins treatment, they must continue it for life.

The researchers stressed that the projected life expectancies will need to be confirmed by longer term follow-up. Their study they did not include other external factors that could influence results, such as lifestyle factors, which could lead to increased death from non-HIV causes. With those caveats in mind, the researchers said they feel confident in concluding that improvements in antiretroviral treatment are responsible for at least some of this improvement.

Overall, these results are encouraging and emphasise the improvements in treatments seen in recent years. However, the life expectancies among people with HIV are still projected to be lower than people among the general population. The researchers also excluded patients whose records were not 100% complete and were missing important information, including age, sex or ethnicity. Also excluded from the sample base were patients who, it was assumed, had contracted HIV through injecting drug use; the reason behind this exclusion is that they are reported to have a worse outlook than other groups.

More information:

  • 'Proteins stopping HIV in its tracks?'