San Francisco study shows antiretroviral treatment continues to improve AIDS survival

A study from the San Francisco Department of Public Health and University of California, San Francisco found that treatment with potent antiretroviral therapy continues to significantly improve how long AIDS patients survive with the disease. The findings do not support concerns voiced among some researchers that such therapy might lose its effectiveness over time.

"Our data show a very significant survival benefit from use of antiretroviral therapy, particularly when it includes a protease inhibitor," said Sandra Schwarcz, MD, MPH, the principal investigator of the study and a member of the SF Department of Public Health AIDS Surveillance Unit.

Schwarcz reported the findings today (July 13) at the XIII International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa.

The study included 2,607 persons who were diagnosed with one of the AIDS-defining opportunistic illnesses between 1995-97 and 3,228 persons diagnosed with either an opportunistic illness or low CD4 cell count within the same time period. Researchers analyzed survival trends over time in the first group of patients and looked at how various forms of treatment affected the risk of death in the latter group.

Because San Francisco was one of the first AIDS epidemic centers in North America, disease trends have often been observed first in the city, said Schwarcz. The number of AIDS deaths in San Francisco reached a plateau between 1992-94 and then declined in 1995, as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) was introduced. The years 1996 and 97 saw the greatest (59 percent) decline in AIDS deaths in the city, but between 1997-98 the decline dropped to 30 percent, prompting speculation that the survival benefit associated with HAART might have waned.

To determine whether this was so, researchers at the San Francisco DPH AIDS Surveillance Unit and a UCSF colleague used comprehensive surveillance data to carefully evaluate trends in AIDS survival between 1995-97 and to assess

Contact: Corinna Kaarlela
University of California - San Francisco

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