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Current HIV treatment guidelines may result in more men than women being eligible for treatment

July 7, 2000 -- Helping to clarify a long-standing issue, a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins shows that women carry lower levels of HIV in their blood than men, especially during early phases of the infection, but have the same risk as men of developing AIDS. One consequence of the findings: viral load thresholds used by doctors to begin anti-retroviral drug therapy could result in more men getting offered treatment than women, particularly early in the course of infection.

"You would assume that if women start out with a lower viral load than men, they would have a lower risk of progressing to AIDS, but they have the same risk," says Timothy Sterling, M.D., an assistant professor of infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. Sterling presents the research on July 11 at the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa.

Currently, doctors generally offer anti-retroviral treatment to patients when tests indicate greater than 20,000 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood. The Hopkins team found that while both men and women had the same risk of developing AIDS, women had lower viral loads than men during the first few years of becoming HIV positive. While men who progressed to AIDS had average viral loads of roughly 78,000 copies per ml in the first year, women who progressed to AIDS only had 17,000 copies per ml. Women continued to have lower HIV levels than men in subsequent years, but by the fourth year, the differences tended to dissipate.

Over the past several years, various studies have yielded conflicting results as to whether viral loads differ between HIV-positive men and women. Using data from the AIDS Linked to Intravenous Experience (ALIVE) study of 3,380 intravenous drug users, Sterling and his colleagues studied individuals who had contracted HIV within 12 months of a previous visit and before December 1 of 1997. Out of the total ALIVE group, 202 qualified for their study
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Contact: Kate O'Rourke
korourke@jhmi.edu
410-955-8665
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
10-Jul-2000


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