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HIV life expectancy boosted 10 years by new drugs

Published on 11/05/17 at 09:42am
World AIDS Day in Stockholm IMAGE: Linda Rehlin via Wikimedia Commons

The latest research to emerge from authors of the University of Bristol has revealed that those living with HIV can expect to live to an average age close to 70 years old.

This may be lower than the life expectancy of the UK’s general population, of 81 years, but this represents a 10-year improvement over statistics that emerged from those beginning treatment in 1996.

The boost in life expectancy was found to be mainly down to the development of new antiretroviral therapy (ART) treatments, which possess fewer damaging side-effects and are better able to limit the spread of the virus. However, improvements in check-ups and testing for HIV have also allowed people to quickly gain treatment for the virus.

The quicker the virus is identified within an individual and treated, the better the outcomes of treatment – with those beginning antiretroviral treatment immediately after diagnosis expected to live towards an upper-range of 78 years.

This means that those treated for HIV could expect to live to a life expectancy not too dissimilar to the general population. The significance of this being the continued removal of any stigma surrounding living with HIV, as some still face difficulties in terms of employment and insurance.

The research was based on data of 88,504 individuals who received treatment for HIV from 1996 through to 2010. The study held patient data from North America and Europe, with similar levels of improvement to life expectancy found in both regions over the period of time analysed – being boosted by 9 years in women and 10 years in men.

The research paper summarised its finding by stating: “Improvements in the care of people living with HIV since the introduction of ART 20 years ago have led to improved survival and increased life expectancy in those starting ART. These improvements probably reflect the availability of superior antiretroviral agents, more options for the management of patients developing resistance, fewer drug interactions, better management of opportunistic infections and chronic diseases, and introduction of screening and prevention programmes. Prognostic models and estimates of life expectancy should be updated to account for these improvements.”

Overall, more people are now being treated when diagnosed with HIV and there has been a fall in the proportion of those living undiagnosed. With this said, there is still a concerted push to improve the levels of individuals being tested for the virus through increasing awareness and directly through GP visits to reduce the estimated one in eight people who live undiagnosed.

Ben Hargreaves

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