Does pregnancy accelerate HIV progression?

Pregnancy and HIV disease progression: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Calvert C, Ronsmans C. Trop Med Int Health. 2014 Oct 31. doi: 10.1111/tmi.12412. [Epub ahead of print]

Objective: To assess whether pregnancy accelerates HIV disease progression.

Methods: Studies comparing progression to HIV-related illness, low CD4 count, AIDS-defining illness, HIV-related death, or any death in HIV-infected pregnant and non-pregnant women were included. Relative risks (RR) for each outcome were combined using random effects meta-analysis and were stratified by antiretroviral therapy (ART) availability.

Results: 15 studies met the inclusion criteria. Pregnancy was not associated with progression to HIV-related illness [summary RR: 1.32, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.66-2.61], AIDS-defining illness (summary RR: 0.97, 95%CI: 0.74-1.25) or mortality (summary RR: 0.97, 95%CI: 0.62-1.53), but there was an association with low CD4 counts (summary RR: 1.41, 95%CI: 0.99-2.02) and HIV-related death (summary RR: 1.65, 95%CI: 1.06-2.57). In settings where ART was available, there was no evidence that pregnancy accelerated progress to HIV/AIDS-defining illnesses, death and drop in CD4 count. In settings without ART availability, effect estimates were consistent with pregnancy increasing the risk of progression to HIV/AIDS-defining illnesses and HIV-related or all-cause mortality, but there were too few studies to draw meaningful conclusions.

Conclusions: In the absence of ART, pregnancy is associated with small but appreciable increases in the risk of several negative HIV outcomes, but the evidence is too weak to draw firm conclusions. When ART is available, the effects of pregnancy on HIV disease progression are attenuated and there is little reason to discourage healthy HIV-infected women who desire to become pregnant from doing so.

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Editor’s notes: The suppression of cell-mediated immunity during pregnancy is associated with increased susceptibility to and/or severity of many infections. Therefore the question of whether pregnancy accelerates HIV disease progression in HIV-positive women is pertinent. A previous systematic review published in the late 1990s found weak evidence that the odds of acquiring an AIDS-defining illness or death were higher among HIV-positive pregnant women than HIV-positive non-pregnant women. The findings from this meta-analysis also suggest that in the absence of antiretroviral therapy (ART), pregnancy is associated with an increase in the risk of several negative HIV outcomes. Fortunately ART appears to diminish the effects of pregnancy on HIV progression.  The authors also draw attention to the methodological weaknesses of the studies included and highlight the need for better quality data, examining whether pregnancy aggravates HIV progression.

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