Are you ready for some good, uplifting news? Data from a European study presented at the 10th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections show that the risk of developing AIDS or dying from AIDS-related illnesses has continued to decrease since the development of highly active antiretroviral therapy'even in these days when we hear so much about drug resistance. Researchers from the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London studied 9,803 people who became HIV-positive between 1994 and 2002. They found that between 1994 and 1998 these people's risk of developing AIDS or dying of AIDS-related causes had fallen by 80% compared with the level of risk among people who had become infected before the beginning of the HAART era. On top of that, between 1998 and 2002 the risk of an AIDS diagnosis or related death fell 8% for each six-month period.
Adding more good news, Scott Holmberg, MD, a senior epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said his agency has been following 1,769 people in the United States who had been diagnosed with HIV infection since 1994, and the data on these patients backs up what the London researchers found.
'Even though therapy is not perfect, it's working,' Amanda Mocroft, MD, who led the London research, told conference attendees. 'An awful lot of people expected the curve to bottom out or even rise again, but it's still going down'which is very encouraging.'
Very encouraging, indeed. As well as being much-needed news. Only a few weeks ago I was talking to an HIV Plus reader on the phone, giving him some additional information on a report we had run among our news briefs. Part of the additional material referred to AIDS as something that 'generally leads to death.' The man I was speaking with made a small panicked sound, grew quiet, and then asked, 'Is that really true?'
I had to spend the next several minutes explaining that there is still a lot of ignorance surrounding this disease'even among people who are supposed to be careful with their facts when they are writing or speaking about it. He was eventually relieved when I told him that people who are taking antiretroviral medications and are in good health are expected by many experts to live long lives.
It is easy to understand, though, why such a statement would shock him in this day and age. This was a man who has been living with HIV for almost 20 years, after all. Discounting those misinformed people we hear about who think 'it's no big deal' to find they are infected with HIV these days 'because you only have to take a few pills,' the women and men who are living reasonably happy HIV-positive lives'since they have been dealing with the virus for years'know that they have to work, alongside an informed physician, at maintaining their level of health.
Because choosing the right physician plays such a crucial role in HIV health care, in this issue we offer up our cover-story package: 'Is Your Doctor Up to Speed on HIV Treatment?' And we mean both physically and mentally. There are national organizations that certify doctors as HIV specialists, but we know that many people across the nation live in places where they will not have access to one of these. We hope you find this package helpful in planning your care regimen with your doctor. After all, you too are a part of your own health care team and need to be informed.
So until next time, stay aware and stay well.