Thirty years of AIDS data highlight survival gains, room for improvement
Better treatment and prevention strategies still needed for opportunistic infections
Infectious Diseases Society of America
4-Jun-2015 - Although treatment advances have dramatically reduced deaths from opportunistic infections related to
AIDS, a new study drawing on 30 years of data from more than 20,000 patients in San Francisco suggests
there is still ample room to improve. About a third--35 percent--of AIDS patients diagnosed with
their first opportunistic infection from 1997 to 2012 in that city died within five years,
according to the study, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.
"While recent research suggests that many opportunistic infections in the U.S. are now less common and,
oftentimes, less lethal, we cannot forget about them," said Kpandja Djawe, PhD, of the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the lead author of the study, which included
researchers from CDC and the San Francisco Department of Public Health. "We need to
keep them in mind, even in the context of the changing epidemiology of HIV."
For the study, researchers analyzed HIV surveillance data collected continuously over the past 30-plus
years by the San Francisco Department of Public Health on initial and subsequent AIDS-defining
opportunistic infections, citywide, beginning in 1981.
Untreated HIV infection progresses to AIDS, opportunistic infections, and cancers. These were common
during the early years of the U.S. epidemic, when death often quickly followed an AIDS diagnosis:
From 1981 to 1986, only 7 percent of patients in San Francisco diagnosed with their first
opportunistic infection lived more than five years, according to the study.
Since then, with advances in antiretroviral therapy (ART), wider availability of HIV testing, and
improvements in the treatment of opportunistic illnesses, survival rates have markedly risen. During
the most recent period analyzed in the study (1997 to 2012), 65 percent of patients diagnosed with
an AIDS-related opportunistic infection lived five more years or longer, a trend consistent with
The remaining 35 percent of AIDS patients--those who died within five years of being diagnosed with
an opportunistic infection--underscore the work still to be done to address AIDS-related illnesses
today, the authors noted. "Better prevention and treatment strategies, including earlier HIV
diagnosis, are needed to lessen the burden of AIDS opportunistic infections, even today,
in the combination ART era," said Sandra Schwarcz, MD, senior HIV epidemiologist at
the San Francisco Department of Public Health and one of the authors of the study.
Indeed, some of these infections, such as progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), and
infection-related cancers, including brain lymphoma, remain associated with substantial mortality
risk today, the authors found, despite an overall improvement in survival rates. In addition,
the health outcomes in San Francisco may be more favorable than in some other parts of the
country, where HIV testing and treatment programs may be less robust.
"The results from San Francisco are encouraging, but highlight the need to remain focused on the
potential for opportunistic infections to cause devastating disease," Henry Masur, MD, and
Sarah W. Read, MD, of the National Institutes of Health, noted in a related editorial
commentary. "A 35 percent mortality rate within five years of the initial
AIDS-defining opportunistic infection leaves considerable room for improvement."
- AIDS opportunistic infections and infection-related cancers can strike when the immune system is badly damaged and HIV infection is not treated and progresses to AIDS.
- From 1981 to 1986, only 7 percent of AIDS patients in San Francisco diagnosed with their first opportunistic infection lived more than five years. During the most recent study period (1997 to 2012), the five-year survival rate for these patients had improved to 65 percent.
- Despite advances in treatment, 35 percent of the remaining AIDS patients diagnosed with their first opportunistic infection from 1997 to 2012 in San Francisco died within five years.
Editor's Note: The study and editorial authors' affiliations, acknowledgments, and disclosures of
financial support and potential conflicts of interests, if any, are available in the study and
editorial. The study and editorial are embargoed until 12:01 a.m. EDT on Thursday, June 4.
These pre-publication links are for media access only:
Mortality Risk After AIDS-Defining Opportunistic Illness Among HIV-Infected Persons--San Francisco, 1981-2012
Opportunistic Infections and Mortality: Still Room for Improvement
Published continuously since 1904, the Journal of Infectious Diseases is the premier global journal for original research on infectious diseases. The editors welcome major articles and brief reports describing research results on microbiology,
immunology, epidemiology, and related disciplines, on the pathogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment of infectious diseases; on the microbes that cause them; and on disorders of host immune responses. The journal is an official publication of the
Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA). Based in Arlington, Va., IDSA is a professional society representing nearly 10,000 physicians and scientists who specialize in infectious diseases.
For more information, visit http://www.idsociety.org. Follow IDSA on Facebook and Twitter.
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