July 24, 2008 -- A 20-year-old diagnosed with HIV can now expect to live 13
years longer than the same person diagnosed with the virus that causes AIDS in
1996, according to a new study on HIV life expectancy.
Researchers credit the dramatic rise in life expectancy for people with HIV
to advances in the "gold standard" for HIV
treatment: combination antiretroviral drug therapy. The therapy utilizes a
cocktail of various drugs that targets the virus in
different ways to lower the level of HIV circulating in the body. The mix of
drugs in the cocktail is modified as the virus becomes resistant or side
effects of the HIV treatment become problematic.
The study shows that since the introduction of combination antiretroviral
drug therapy for HIV in 1996, the average life expectancy has increased from
36.1 years in 1996-1999 to 49.4 years in 2003-2005. In addition, death rates
for people with HIV who received combination antiretroviral drug therapy
dropped by about 40% during the same period.
"These advances have transformed HIV from being a fatal disease, which was
the reality for patients before the advent of combination treatment, into a
long-term chronic condition," write researcher Robert Hogg, of the British
Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, in Vancouver, Canada and colleagues
in The Lancet.
Although previous studies have shown that combination antiretroviral drug
therapy has led to significant increases in survival and quality of life for
people with HIV, researchers say the impact on life expectancy on a
population-wide level has not been examined until now.
In the study, researchers followed three groups of HIV-positive people in
Europe and North America who began antiretroviral drug therapy in 1996-1999,
2000-2002, and 2003-2005, respectively. There were 18,587 patients in the first
group, 13,914 patients in the second group, and 10,854 in the third group.
Overall, 4.7% of the participants died during the course of the study. The
average mortality rate decreased from 16.3 deaths per 1,000 person-years in
1996-1999 to 10 deaths per 1,000 person-years in 2003-2005, a drop of about
Researchers found the average life expectancy for a 20-year-old diagnosed
with HIV increased by more than 13 years during the study.
In addition, the study showed several factors were associated with HIV life
Those treated later in the course of their infection had lower life
expectancy than those treated early on.
Participants with lower infection-fighting white blood cell counts tended
to have a lower life expectancy than others (32.4 years compared with 50.4
Those who became infected with HIV through injected drug use had a shorter
life expectancy (32.6 years) than those who became infected with HIV in other
ways (44.7 years)
Women had a slightly longer life expectancy than men (44.2 vs. 42.8 years),
which researchers say is probably due to the fact that women, on average,
started their HIV treatment earlier in the course of HIV infection than