Old fashioned AIDS is still with us – shocking in 2017

Editor’s notes: The term AIDS refers to advanced HIV disease with a CD4 count below 200 cells per microl. or with one of several typical opportunistic infections. It is more than twenty years since the revolutionary discovery of highly active combination antiretroviral therapy.  While deaths due to HIV have fallen steadily over the past two decades, it is shocking that so many people are still dying from AIDS.  In part this is due to the same issues of HIV testing discussed above [1].  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published their most recent report on surveillance in the United States of America (US [2]A).  The authors show very gradual progress in the right direction. But, still more than 20% of people are diagnosed with HIV infection in the USA when they already have AIDS.  In fact, in a further 20% of people, the stage of infection was not reported to CDC, so as a proportion of those with a known stage at diagnosis, as many as one quarter were diagnosed with AIDS. As might be expected, there are disparities between states with District of Columbia and California doing a little better.  There are big disparities by age (with over one third of people diagnosed at age greater than 45 years having AIDS) but surprisingly little difference by ethnicity.

Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) recently released a report [3] highlighting the challenge of advanced disease, which was picked up in a commentary in the British Medical Journal by Cousins [4].  The report points out that in hospital settings in Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Kenya, and Malawi, MSF are still seeing an alarmingly high mortality rate, with one third of deaths occurring within the first 48 hours of admission.  As many as three quarters of the patients had been on antiretroviral therapy (ART), suggesting that their advanced disease was not a consequence of late presentation, but rather of failure of the health system to deliver quality care.  The importance of detecting treatment failure early and changing to effective second (or third) line ART was emphasized.  Once patients do present to hospital with advanced HIV disease, it is a clinical emergency and urgent effective care may make a big difference.  WHO has recently issued guidance on managing advanced HIV disease [5], and the Journal of the International AIDS Society has recently released a useful supplement on Differentiated Care and HIV [6].

Back in the USA, Braunstein et al. used existing laboratory and other data to construct a retrospective analysis of what happened in the intervenable period during which different treatment approaches might have prevented more than 11 000 people from dying with HIV between 2007 and 2013.  The intervenable period was defined as the 12 months before the last three months of life.  The authors pointed out that in the last three months of life, people might be in care that was not typical of their engagement during the preceding year.  So the intervenable period is therefore more important to see where change could happen.  Like the MSF team, they found that a substantial proportion of people were not properly treated, as shown by the finding that 60% of people did not have a suppressed viral load in the period analysed.  This was despite 98% having some engagement with the health system as shown by laboratory records, 80% being defined as linked to care, and 76% being prescribed ART. The challenge seemed to be to provide high quality care with continuity of care and decisions made promptly according to the findings in the laboratory.

The package of interventions recommended by WHO in their guidance for people presenting with advanced HIV disease includes screening, treatment and/or prophylaxis for major opportunistic infections, rapid ART initiation and intensified adherence support interventions.  Additional support for this approach comes from the REALITY randomized trial conducted by Hakim and colleagues in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Kenya.  In this trial, people with advanced HIV infection, judged by their CD4 count, were randomized in a factorial design.  1805 participants were randomized to different ART regimens; to nutritional support or not; and to a package of prophylaxis.  This paper reports on the differences seen according to whether or not participants were randomized to receive the enhanced prophylaxis.  The package consisted of at least 12 weeks of co-trimoxazole (against pneumocystis, malaria, and various bacterial and protozoal infections), co-formulated with isoniazid and pyridoxine (against tuberculosis), along with fluconazole (against cryptococcus, candida and other fungi) also for 12 weeks and azithromycin (against a broader range of invasive bacteria including salmonella) for five days.  The enhanced prophylaxis led to a 27% reduction in mortality six months after entering the study, and there was still a clear difference after one year, by when 127 people had died in the standard of care group compared to 98 in the enhanced prophylaxis group.  Nonetheless, the death rate was still considerable.  It is also worth noting that many of the people in whom the CD4 count was extremely low did not complain of any symptoms.  So CD4 testing is still needed at the point of clinical care to determine who needs urgent differentiated care for advanced HIV infection.

The final paper in this section is a randomised trial from GHESKIO in Haiti (Koenig et al.).  The investigators randomized 701 people diagnosed with HIV, to start ART on the same day as their diagnosis, or to wait for three weeks, as is standard of care at the centre.  12 months later, viral suppression was somewhat better in people who started ART on the same day (61% vs. 52% at a cut-off of 1000 copies per ml.).  The authors point out that this was a single centre study, and results from GHESKIO might not be generalizable to other treatment sites in Haiti.  Although there were still substantial losses to follow up, there was clearly no evidence that the policy to start people on HIV treatment immediately was too hasty.


Missed opportunities: adapting the HIV care continuum to reduce HIV-related deaths

Braunstein SL, Robbins RS, Daskalakis DC. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2017 Jul 26. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001509. [Epub ahead of print]

Introduction: With advances in HIV care, persons with HIV/AIDS (PWHA) can lead healthy lives, but avoidable, HIV-related deaths continue to occur in New York City (NYC).

Methods: We selected PWHA from our surveillance registry who died between 2007-2013, resided in NYC, and survived ≥15 months post-diagnosis to generate an HIV Mortality Reduction Continuum of Care (HMRCC) describing pre-death care patterns among PWHA. We used HIV laboratory test reports to measure care outcomes during an "intervenable period" (IP) during which deaths may have been avoided. The continuum was stratified by underlying cause of death (COD) (HIV-related vs. other), and the HIV-related HMRCC was stratified by demographic characteristics.

Results: 11 187 analysis-eligible PWHA died during 2007-2013. 98% linked to care; 80% were retained in care during the IP; 66% were prescribed ART; 47% had VL≤1500 copies/mL; 40% achieved viral suppression (VS). Half (47%) of deaths were HIV-related. Retention was higher among HIV-related COD (83% vs. 78%), but VS was lower (34% vs. 46%). The HIV-related HMRCC revealed disparities in VS. Despite comparable retention rates, Whites had the highest VS (42%, vs. 32% Blacks and 33% Latinos/Hispanics). Additionally, retention and VS increased with increasing age. People with a history of injection drug use had relatively high rates of retention (88%) and VS (37%).

Discussion: The HMRCC is a novel framework for evaluating pre-death care patterns among PWHA and identifying opportunities to reduce preventable deaths. In NYC, reducing mortality will require increasing VS among those already in care, particularly for Blacks and Latinos/Hispanics.

Abstract access [7]


Enhanced prophylaxis plus antiretroviral therapy for advanced HIV infection in Africa

Hakim J, Musiime V, Szubert AJ, Mallewa J, Siika A, Agutu C, Walker S, Pett SL, Bwakura-Dangarembizi M, Lugemwa A, Kaunda S, Karoney M, Musoro G, Kabahenda S, Nathoo K, Maitland K, Griffiths A, Thomason MJ, Kityo C, Mugyenyi P, Prendergast AJ, Walker AS, Gibb DM; REALITY Trial Team. N Engl J Med. 2017 Jul 20;377(3):233-245. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1615822.

Background: In sub-Saharan Africa, among patients with advanced human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, the rate of death from infection (including tuberculosis and cryptococcus) shortly after the initiation of antiretroviral therapy (ART) is approximately 10%.

Methods: In this factorial open-label trial conducted in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Kenya, we enrolled HIV-infected adults and children 5 years of age or older who had not received previous ART and were starting ART with a CD4+ count of fewer than 100 cells per cubic millimeter. They underwent simultaneous randomization to receive enhanced antimicrobial prophylaxis or standard prophylaxis, adjunctive raltegravir or no raltegravir, and supplementary food or no supplementary food. Here, we report on the effects of enhanced antimicrobial prophylaxis, which consisted of continuous trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole plus at least 12 weeks of isoniazid-pyridoxine (co-formulated with trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole in a single fixed-dose combination tablet), 12 weeks of fluconazole, 5 days of azithromycin, and a single dose of albendazole, as compared with standard prophylaxis (trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole alone). The primary end point was 24-week mortality.

Results: A total of 1805 patients (1733 adults and 72 children or adolescents) underwent randomization to receive either enhanced prophylaxis (906 patients) or standard prophylaxis (899 patients) and were followed for 48 weeks (loss to follow-up, 3.1%). The median baseline CD4+ count was 37 cells per cubic millimeter, but 854 patients (47.3%) were asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. In the Kaplan-Meier analysis at 24 weeks, the rate of death with enhanced prophylaxis was lower than that with standard prophylaxis (80 patients [8.9% vs. 108 [12.2%]; hazard ratio, 0.73; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.55 to 0.98; P=0.03); 98 patients (11.0%) and 127 (14.4%), respectively, had died by 48 weeks (hazard ratio, 0.76; 95% CI, 0.58 to 0.99; P=0.04). Patients in the enhanced-prophylaxis group had significantly lower rates of tuberculosis (P=0.02), cryptococcal infection (P=0.01), oral or esophageal candidiasis (P=0.02), death of unknown cause (P=0.03), and new hospitalization (P=0.03). However, there was no significant between-group difference in the rate of severe bacterial infection (P=0.32). There were nonsignificantly lower rates of serious adverse events and grade 4 adverse events in the enhanced-prophylaxis group (P=0.08 and P=0.09, respectively). Rates of HIV viral suppression and adherence to ART were similar in the two groups.

Conclusion: Among HIV-infected patients with advanced immunosuppression, enhanced antimicrobial prophylaxis combined with ART resulted in reduced rates of death at both 24 weeks and 48 weeks without compromising viral suppression or increasing toxic effects.

Abstract [8]  Full-text [free] access [9]


Same-day HIV testing with initiation of antiretroviral therapy versus standard care for persons living with HIV: A randomized unblinded trial

Koenig SP, Dorvil N, Dévieux JG, Hedt-Gauthier BL, Riviere C, Faustin M, Lavoile K, Perodin C, Apollon A, Duverger L, McNairy ML, Hennessey KA, Souroutzidis A, Cremieux PY, Severe P, Pape JW. PLoS Med. 2017 Jul 25;14(7):e1002357. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002357. eCollection 2017 Jul.

Background: Attrition during the period from HIV testing to antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation is high worldwide. We assessed whether same-day HIV testing and ART initiation improves retention and virologic suppression.

Methods and Findings: We conducted an unblinded, randomized trial of standard ART initiation versus same-day HIV testing and ART initiation among eligible adults ≥18 years old with World Health Organization Stage 1 or 2 disease and CD4 count ≤500 cells/mm3. The study was conducted among outpatients at the Haitian Group for the Study of Kaposi's Sarcoma and Opportunistic infections (GHESKIO) Clinic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Participants were randomly assigned (1:1) to standard ART initiation or same-day HIV testing and ART initiation. The standard group initiated ART 3 weeks after HIV testing, and the same-day group initiated ART on the day of testing. The primary study endpoint was retention in care 12 months after HIV testing with HIV-1 RNA <50 copies/ml. We assessed the impact of treatment arm with a modified intention-to-treat analysis, using multivariable logistic regression controlling for potential confounders. Between August 2013 and October 2015, 762 participants were enrolled; 59 participants transferred to other clinics during the study period, and were excluded as per protocol, leaving 356 in the standard and 347 in the same-day ART groups. In the standard ART group, 156 (44%) participants were retained in care with 12-month HIV-1 RNA <50 copies, and 184 (52%) had <1000 copies/ml; 20 participants (6%) died. In the same-day ART group, 184 (53%) participants were retained with HIV-1 RNA <50 copies/ml, and 212 (61%) had <1000 copies/ml; 10 (3%) participants died. The unadjusted risk ratio (RR) of being retained at 12 months with HIV-1 RNA <50 copies/ml was 1.21 (95% CI: 1.04, 1.38; p = 0.015) for the same-day ART group compared to the standard ART group, and the unadjusted RR for being retained with HIV-1 RNA <1000 copies was 1.18 (95% CI: 1.04, 1.31; p = 0.012). The main limitation of this study is that it was conducted at a single urban clinic, and the generalizability to other settings is uncertain.

Conclusions: Same-day HIV testing and ART initiation is feasible and beneficial in this setting, as it improves retention in care with virologic suppression among patients with early clinical HIV disease.

Abstract [10]  Full-text [free] access [11]

Africa [17], Latin America [18], Northern America [19]
Haiti [20], Kenya [21], Malawi [22], Uganda [23], United States of America [24], Zimbabwe [25]
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