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      Timing of initiation of antiretroviral therapy in AIDS-free HIV-1-infected patients: a collaborative analysis of 18 HIV cohort studies

      When To Start Consortium

      Lancet

      Lancet Publishing Group

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          Summary

          Background

          The CD4 cell count at which combination antiretroviral therapy should be started is a central, unresolved issue in the care of HIV-1-infected patients. In the absence of randomised trials, we examined this question in prospective cohort studies.

          Methods

          We analysed data from 18 cohort studies of patients with HIV. Antiretroviral-naive patients from 15 of these studies were eligible for inclusion if they had started combination antiretroviral therapy (while AIDS-free, with a CD4 cell count less than 550 cells per μL, and with no history of injecting drug use) on or after Jan 1, 1998. We used data from patients followed up in seven of the cohorts in the era before the introduction of combination therapy (1989–95) to estimate distributions of lead times (from the first CD4 cell count measurement in an upper range to the upper threshold of a lower range) and unseen AIDS and death events (occurring before the upper threshold of a lower CD4 cell count range is reached) in the absence of treatment. These estimations were used to impute completed datasets in which lead times and unseen AIDS and death events were added to data for treated patients in deferred therapy groups. We compared the effect of deferred initiation of combination therapy with immediate initiation on rates of AIDS and death, and on death alone, in adjacent CD4 cell count ranges of width 100 cells per μL.

          Findings

          Data were obtained for 21 247 patients who were followed up during the era before the introduction of combination therapy and 24 444 patients who were followed up from the start of treatment. Deferring combination therapy until a CD4 cell count of 251–350 cells per μL was associated with higher rates of AIDS and death than starting therapy in the range 351–450 cells per μL (hazard ratio [HR] 1·28, 95% CI 1·04–1·57). The adverse effect of deferring treatment increased with decreasing CD4 cell count threshold. Deferred initiation of combination therapy was also associated with higher mortality rates, although effects on mortality were less marked than effects on AIDS and death (HR 1·13, 0·80–1·60, for deferred initiation of treatment at CD4 cell count 251–350 cells per μL compared with initiation at 351–450 cells per μL).

          Interpretation

          Our results suggest that 350 cells per μL should be the minimum threshold for initiation of antiretroviral therapy, and should help to guide physicians and patients in deciding when to start treatment.

          Funding

          UK Medical Research Council.

          Related collections

          Most cited references 67

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          Declining morbidity and mortality among patients with advanced human immunodeficiency virus infection. HIV Outpatient Study Investigators.

          National surveillance data show recent, marked reductions in morbidity and mortality associated with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). To evaluate these declines, we analyzed data on 1255 patients, each of whom had at least one CD4+ count below 100 cells per cubic millimeter, who were seen at nine clinics specializing in the treatment of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection in eight U.S. cities from January 1994 through June 1997. Mortality among the patients declined from 29.4 per 100 person-years in the first quarter of 1995 to 8.8 per 100 in the second quarter of 1997. There were reductions in mortality regardless of sex, race, age, and risk factors for transmission of HIV. The incidence of any of three major opportunistic infections (Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, Mycobacterium avium complex disease, and cytomegalovirus retinitis) declined from 21.9 per 100 person-years in 1994 to 3.7 per 100 person-years by mid-1997. In a failure-rate model, increases in the intensity of antiretroviral therapy (classified as none, monotherapy, combination therapy without a protease inhibitor, and combination therapy with a protease inhibitor) were associated with stepwise reductions in morbidity and mortality. Combination antiretroviral therapy was associated with the most benefit; the inclusion of protease inhibitors in such regimens conferred additional benefit. Patients with private insurance were more often prescribed protease inhibitors and had lower mortality rates than those insured by Medicare or Medicaid. The recent declines in morbidity and mortality due to AIDS are attributable to the use of more intensive antiretroviral therapies.
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            Mortality of HIV-1-infected patients in the first year of antiretroviral therapy: comparison between low-income and high-income countries.

            Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) is being scaled up in developing countries. We compared baseline characteristics and outcomes during the first year of HAART between HIV-1-infected patients in low-income and high-income settings. 18 HAART programmes in Africa, Asia, and South America (low-income settings) and 12 HIV cohort studies from Europe and North America (high-income settings) provided data for 4810 and 22,217, respectively, treatment-naïve adult patients starting HAART. All patients from high-income settings and 2725 (57%) patients from low-income settings were actively followed-up and included in survival analyses. Compared with high-income countries, patients starting HAART in low-income settings had lower CD4 cell counts (median 108 cells per muL vs 234 cells per muL), were more likely to be female (51%vs 25%), and more likely to start treatment with a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI) (70%vs 23%). At 6 months, the median number of CD4 cells gained (106 cells per muL vs 103 cells per muL) and the percentage of patients reaching HIV-1 RNA levels lower than 500 copies/mL (76%vs 77%) were similar. Mortality was higher in low-income settings (124 deaths during 2236 person-years of follow-up) than in high-income settings (414 deaths during 20,532 person-years). The adjusted hazard ratio (HR) of mortality comparing low-income with high-income settings fell from 4.3 (95% CI 1.6-11.8) during the first month to 1.5 (0.7-3.0) during months 7-12. The provision of treatment free of charge in low-income settings was associated with lower mortality (adjusted HR 0.23; 95% CI 0.08-0.61). Patients starting HAART in resource-poor settings have increased mortality rates in the first months on therapy, compared with those in developed countries. Timely diagnosis and assessment of treatment eligibility, coupled with free provision of HAART, might reduce this excess mortality.
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              CD4+ count-guided interruption of antiretroviral treatment.

              Despite declines in morbidity and mortality with the use of combination antiretroviral therapy, its effectiveness is limited by adverse events, problems with adherence, and resistance of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). We randomly assigned persons infected with HIV who had a CD4+ cell count of more than 350 per cubic millimeter to the continuous use of antiretroviral therapy (the viral suppression group) or the episodic use of antiretroviral therapy (the drug conservation group). Episodic use involved the deferral of therapy until the CD4+ count decreased to less than 250 per cubic millimeter and then the use of therapy until the CD4+ count increased to more than 350 per cubic millimeter. The primary end point was the development of an opportunistic disease or death from any cause. An important secondary end point was major cardiovascular, renal, or hepatic disease. A total of 5472 participants (2720 assigned to drug conservation and 2752 to viral suppression) were followed for an average of 16 months before the protocol was modified for the drug conservation group. At baseline, the median and nadir CD4+ counts were 597 per cubic millimeter and 250 per cubic millimeter, respectively, and 71.7% of participants had plasma HIV RNA levels of 400 copies or less per milliliter. Opportunistic disease or death from any cause occurred in 120 participants (3.3 events per 100 person-years) in the drug conservation group and 47 participants (1.3 per 100 person-years) in the viral suppression group (hazard ratio for the drug conservation group vs. the viral suppression group, 2.6; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.9 to 3.7; P<0.001). Hazard ratios for death from any cause and for major cardiovascular, renal, and hepatic disease were 1.8 (95% CI, 1.2 to 2.9; P=0.007) and 1.7 (95% CI, 1.1 to 2.5; P=0.009), respectively. Adjustment for the latest CD4+ count and HIV RNA level (as time-updated covariates) reduced the hazard ratio for the primary end point from 2.6 to 1.5 (95% CI, 1.0 to 2.1). Episodic antiretroviral therapy guided by the CD4+ count, as used in our study, significantly increased the risk of opportunistic disease or death from any cause, as compared with continuous antiretroviral therapy, largely as a consequence of lowering the CD4+ cell count and increasing the viral load. Episodic antiretroviral therapy does not reduce the risk of adverse events that have been associated with antiretroviral therapy. (ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00027352 [ClinicalTrials.gov].). Copyright 2006 Massachusetts Medical Society.
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                Author and article information

                Author notes
                [‡]

                Members listed at end of paper and contributors to each cohort are listed in the webappendix (pp 1–8)

                Journal
                Lancet
                Lancet
                Lancet Publishing Group
                0140-6736
                1474-547X
                18 April 2009
                18 April 2009
                : 373
                : 9672
                : 1352-1363
                2670965 19361855 LANCET60612 10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60612-7
                © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

                This document may be redistributed and reused, subject to certain conditions.

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