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 40%.