Infectious co-morbidities – why are people still dying of advanced HIV infections?

Editor’s notes: Tuberculosis remains the biggest reported killer of people living with HIV.  Studies from Guangxi, China and Nigeria examine risk factors for tuberculosis.  In the Chinese study, Cui Z and colleagues found almost one in six of 1019 people receiving care for HIV had active tuberculosis.  The risk factors that they found when comparing these 160 people with tuberculosis to matched controls living with HIV but without tuberculosis were well-known (low CD4 cell count, smoking and non-use of ART).  Long duration of HIV infection was also independently associated with developing tuberculosis, emphasising the need for tuberculosis specific measures in addition to ART.  The authors recommend standard approaches that need to be strengthened (active screening and case-finding with early initiation of ART; isoniazid preventive therapy and better infection control).  The most extraordinary statistic is how much higher the rate of tuberculosis is among this group of people receiving HIV care than it is among the general population of Guangxi.  173 times higher is pretty impressive!

The Pathmanathan I et al. study in Nigeria, carried out as part of a broader analysis of the outcomes of a nationally representative sample of people taking ART, is more optimistic.  The incidence rate for tuberculosis once people started on ART was 0.57 per 100 person years, which compares quite favourably with the estimated incidence for Nigeria from the WHO Global Tuberculosis 2016 report [link] of 0.32 per 100 person years.  Furthermore, most of the incident tuberculosis occurred soon after starting ART and (as might be expected) was most common in people with low CD4 count; previous tuberculosis or suspected but not diagnosed tuberculosis on starting ART.  Once people’s CD4 count was above 200 cells per ml, the incidence rate was 0.29 per 100 person-years.  This is encouraging, as it suggests that a good ART programme could have a significant impact on the overall risk of tuberculosis.  The aim of collaborative tuberculosis and HIV programme efforts must be to find people living with HIV before they are so immunocompromised.  In this study, the average CD4 count at enrolment was less than 200 cells per ml and around 5% of people already had tuberculosis at that time.

Late HIV diagnosis was also the subject of a study from Jiangsu province in China.  Hu H and colleagues looked at the trends in HIV testing and presentation to care before the CD4 count fell below 350 cells per ml.  From 2011-2014 in cross-sectional annual community based surveys among around 2500 men who have sex with men (MSM), there was a modest decline in the proportion who had had an HIV test within the last 12 months from 60% to 53%, and late presentation remained stable around 40%.  We have to shift from this plateau and the authors point out that HIV self-tests seem highly acceptable to MSM in China and that social media and internet based advocacy might also help.

There is increasing interest in co-infections with hepatitis B and C viruses in people living with HIV.  Hepatitis B is widespread in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa with “horizontal” transmission occurring in childhood.  Vaccination is now included as part of some countries programmes on expanded immunisation.  Co-infection with HIV and Hepatitis B leads to more rapid progression of liver damage and to liver cancer. Seremba E and colleagues tested stored sera from people living with HIV in the Rakai community and found that around half had already been infected with hepatitis B (in line with the high prevalence of infection in children).  During the follow up samples from people who were hepatitis B negative, new infections with hepatitis B occurred in 39 individuals, giving an incidence rate of 1.2 per 100 person years.  While hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for people living with HIV who are not infected, this study shows that ART is also protective, particularly if it contains lamivudine or tenofovir.  So this may be an added benefit of the wider scale-up of ART.

Despite advance in ART, too many people still die with HIV-associated infections that are only seen at low CD4 cell counts.  An important example is cryptococcal meningitis, which causes an insidious onset of symptoms. By the time patients are seen at the hospital with severe headache and signs of raised intracranial pressure it is often too late to prevent them from dying. This is because the best medicines (liposomal amphotericin and flucytosine) are expensive and often not available.  So WHO recommends pre-emptive treatment for people who are first seen at the health service with CD4 counts less than 100 cells per ml and with cryptococcal antigen (CRAG) detectable in the blood.  A modelling study by Ramachandran A et al. from Uganda and the US considered the likely costs and benefits of using a new lateral flow assay for CRAG for people living with HIV with a low CD4 count, with pre-emptive treatment with fluconazole for people found to be CRAG-positive. The results, including various sensitivity tests, are strongly in favour of widespread implementation of this strategy. The authors calculate that it would cost Uganda around US$650 000 per year and would avert more than a thousand deaths.  Like the tuberculosis discussions above, the real aim is to prevent people living with HIV reaching the stage where “old-fashioned” opportunistic infections can cause such misery.  However in the medium term, we are likely to continue to see many people presenting late in the course of their infections, and CRAG (and tuberculosis) screening and management are key ways to prevent mortality.

Risk factors associated with Tuberculosis (TB) among people living with HIV/AIDS: A pair-matched case-control study in Guangxi, China.

Cui Z, Lin M, Nie S, Lan R. PLoS One. 2017 Mar 30;12(3):e0173976. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0173976.eCollection 2017.

Background: As one of the poorest provinces in China, Guangxi has a high HIV and TB prevalence, with the annual number of TB/HIV cases reported by health department among the highest in the country. However, studies on the burden of TB-HIV co-infection and risk factors for active TB among HIV-infected persons in Guangxi have rarely been reported.

Objective: To investigate the risk factors for active TB among people living with HIV/AIDS in Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, China.

Methods: A surveillance survey was conducted of 1019 HIV-infected patients receiving care at three AIDS prevention and control departments between 2013 and 2015. We investigated the cumulative prevalence of TB during 2 years. To analyze risk factors associated with active TB, we conducted a 1:1 pair-matched case-control study of newly reported active TB/HIV co-infected patients. Controls were patients with HIV without active TB, latent TB infection or other lung disease, who were matched with the case group based on sex and age (± 3 years).

Results: A total of 1019 subjects were evaluated. 160 subjects (15.70%) were diagnosed with active TB, including 85 clinically diagnosed cases and 75 confirmed cases. We performed a 1:1 matched case-control study, with 82 TB/HIV patients and 82 people living with HIV/AIDS based on surveillance site, sex and age (±3) years. According to multivariate analysis, smoking (OR = 2.996, 0.992-9.053), lower CD4+ T-cell count (OR = 3.288, 1.161-9.311), long duration of HIV-infection (OR = 5.946, 2.221-15.915) and non-use of ART (OR = 7.775, 2.618-23.094) were independent risk factors for TB in people living with HIV/AIDS.

Conclusion: The prevalence of active TB among people living with HIV/AIDS in Guangxi was 173 times higher than general population in Guangxi. It is necessary for government to integrate control planning and resources for the two diseases. Medical and public health workers should strengthen health education for TB/HIV prevention and treatment and promote smoking cessation. Active TB case finding and early initiation of ART is necessary to minimize the burden of disease among patients with HIV, as is IPT and infection control in healthcare facilities.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Incidence and predictors of tuberculosis among HIV-infected adults after initiation of antiretroviral therapy in Nigeria, 2004-2012.

Pathmanathan I, Dokubo EK, Shiraishi RW, Agolory SG, Auld AF, Onotu D, Odafe S, Dalhatu I, Abiri O, Debem HC, Bashorun A, Ellerbrock T. PLoS One. 2017 Mar 10;12(3):e0173309. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0173309.eCollection 2017.

Background: Nigeria had the most AIDS-related deaths worldwide in 2014 (170 000), and 46% were associated with tuberculosis (TB). Although treatment of people living with HIV (PLHIV) with antiretroviral therapy (ART) reduces TB-associated morbidity and mortality, incident TB can occur while on ART. We estimated incidence and characterized factors associated with TB after ART initiation in Nigeria.

Methods: We analyzed retrospective cohort data from a nationally representative sample of adult patients on ART. Data were abstracted from 3496 patient records, and analyses were weighted and controlled for a complex survey design. We performed domain analyses on patients without documented TB disease and used a Cox proportional hazard model to assess factors associated with TB incidence after ART.

Results: At ART initiation, 3350 patients (95.8%) were not receiving TB treatment. TB incidence after ART initiation was 0.57 per 100 person-years, and significantly higher for patients with CD4<50/μL (adjusted hazard ratio [AHR]:4.2, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.4-12.7) compared with CD4≥200/μL. Patients with suspected but untreated TB at ART initiation and those with a history of prior TB were more likely to develop incident TB (AHR: 12.2, 95% CI: 4.5-33.5 and AHR: 17.6, 95% CI: 3.5-87.9, respectively).

Conclusion: Incidence of TB among PLHIV after ART initiation was low, and predicted by advanced HIV, prior TB, and suspected but untreated TB. Study results suggest a need for improved TB screening and diagnosis, particularly among high-risk PLHIV initiating ART, and reinforce the benefit of early ART and other TB prevention efforts.

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Trends in late HIV diagnosis among men who have sex with men in Jiangsu province, China: Results from four consecutive community-based surveys, 2011-2014.

Hu H, Yan H, Liu X, Xu X, Xu J, Qiu T, Shi LE, Fu G, HuanX, McFarland W, Wei C). PLoS One. 2017 Mar 9;12(3):e0172664. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0172664.eCollection 2017.

Objectives: To examine trends in HIV testing, late HIV diagnosis and associated factors among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Jiangsu province, China.

Methods: Four consecutive community-based cross-sectional surveys were conducted among MSM from 2011 to 2014 in eight cities in the province. Participants were recruited from MSM venues and via the internet. HIV bio-behavioral surveys were conducted to collect demographic and behavioral data and measure HIV infection. HIV-infected participants with CD4 counts less than 350 cells/µL were defined as having a late HIV diagnosis. Chi-square trend tests were used to compare temporal changes over the years and multivariable logistic regression analyses were used to identify factors associated with late diagnosis.

Results: A total of 2441, 2677, 2591 and 2610 participants were enrolled in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, respectively. Testing for HIV in the last 12 months decreased over the time period, from 59.9% to 52.5% (p<0.001). Late HIV diagnosis remained high and steady, ranging from 33.3% to 44.2% over the years with no significant change over time (p = 0.418). MSM who were older than 24 years (aOR =1.748, p = 0.020 for 25-39 years old; aOR = 3.148, p<0.001 for 40 years old or older), were recruited via internet (aOR = 1.596, p = 0.024), and did not have an HIV test in the past 12 months (aOR = 3.385, p<0.001) were more likely to be late diagnosed.

Conclusions: Our study showed a plateau in HIV testing among MSM in China, in parallel to high levels of late diagnosis. Emerging and innovative strategies such as HIV self-testing and reaching more MSM by internet, both highly acceptable to MSM in China, may reduce late diagnosis.

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Hepatitis B incidence and prevention with antiretroviral therapy among HIV-positive individuals in Uganda.

Seremba E, Ssempijja V, Kalibbala S, Gray RH, Wawer MJ, Nalugoda F, Casper C, Phipps W, Ocama P, Serwadda D, Thomas DL, Reynolds SJ. 123. AIDS. 2017 Mar 27;31(6):781-786. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001399.

Objective: Antiretroviral therapy (ART) may interfere with replication of hepatitis B virus (HBV), raising the hypothesis that HBV infection might be prevented by ART. We investigated the incidence and risk factors associated with HBV among HIV-infected adults in Rakai, Uganda.

Methods: We screened stored sera from 944 HIV-infected adults enrolled in the Rakai Community Cohort Study between September 2003 and March 2015 for evidence of HBV exposure. Serum from participants who tested anti-hepatitis B core-negative (497) at baseline were tested over 3-7 consecutive survey rounds for incident HBV. Poisson incidence methods were used to estimate incidence of HBV with 95% confidence intervals (CIs), whereas Cox proportional regression methods were used to estimate hazard ratios (HRs).

Results: Thirty-nine HBV infections occurred over 3342 person-years, incidence1.17/100 person-years. HBV incidence was significantly lower with ART use: 0.49/100 person-years with ART and 2.3/100 person-years without ART [adjusted HR (aHR) 0.25, 95% CI 0.1-0.5, P < 0.001], and with lamivudine (3TC) use: (0.58/100 person-years) with 3TC and 2.25/100 person-years without 3TC (aHR 0.32, 95% CI0.1-0.7, P =  < 0.007). No new HBV infections occurred among those on tenofovir-based ART. HBV incidence also decreased with HIV RNA suppression: 0.6/100 person-years with 400 copies/ml or less and 4.0/100 person-years with more than 400 copies/ml (aHR, 6.4, 95% CI 2.2-19.0, P < 0.001); and with age: 15-29 years versus 40-50 years (aHR 3.2, 95% CI 1.2-9.0); 30-39 years versus 40-50 years (aHR 2.1, 95% CI 0.9-5.3).

Conclusion: HBV continues to be acquired in adulthood among HIV-positive Ugandans and HBV incidence is dramatically reduced with HBV-active ART. In addition to widespread vaccination, initiation of ART may prevent HBV acquisition among HIV-positive adults in sub-Saharan Africa.

Abstract access 

Cost-effectiveness of CRAG-LFA screening for cryptococcal meningitis among people living with HIV in Uganda.

Ramachandran A(1), Manabe Y(1,)(2), Rajasingham R(3), Shah M(4).141. BMC Infect Dis. 2017 Mar 23;17(1):225. doi: 10.1186/s12879-017-2325-9.

Background: Cryptococcal meningitis (CM) constitutes a significant source of mortality in resource-limited regions. Cryptococcal antigen (CRAG) can be detected in the blood before onset of meningitis. We sought to determine the cost-effectiveness of implementing CRAG screening using the recently developed CRAG lateral flow assay in Uganda compared to current practice without screening.

Methods: A decision-analytic model was constructed to compare two strategies for cryptococcal prevention among people living with HIV with CD4 < 100 in Uganda: No cryptococcal screening vs. CRAG screening with WHO-recommended preemptive treatment for CRAG-positive patients. The model was constructed to reflect primary HIV clinics in Uganda, with a cohort of HIV-infected patients withCD4 < 100 cells/µL. Primary outcomes were expected costs, DALYs, and incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERs). We evaluated varying levels of programmatic implementation in secondary analysis.

Results: CRAG screening was considered highly cost-effective and was associated with an ICER of $6.14 per DALY averted compared to no screening (95% uncertainty range: $-20.32 to $36.47). Overall, implementation of CRAG screening was projected to cost $1.52 more per person, and was projected to result in a 40% relative reduction in cryptococcal-associated mortality. In probabilistic sensitivity analysis, CRAG screening was cost-effective in 100% of scenarios and cost saving (ie cheaper and more effective than no screening) in 30% of scenarios. Secondary analysis projected a total cost of $651 454 for 100%implementation of screening nationally, while averting 1228 deaths compared to no screening.

Conclusion: CRAG screening for PLWH with low CD4 represents excellent value for money with the potential to prevent cryptococcal morbidity and mortality in Uganda.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Africa, Asia
China, Nigeria, Uganda
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