STANFORD, Calif. - The key to combating AIDS in Russia may be to treat HIV-infected drug users. A new model estimating the spread of HIV in Russia suggests that treating injection drug users with antiretroviral medication will slow transmission of the virus among the general population.
The study, which will appear in the December issue of the journal AIDS, was led by Douglas Owens, MD, a researcher at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System and professor of medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and Margaret Brandeau, PhD, professor of engineering at Stanford.
Estimates vary, but around 1 million Russians - slightly more than 1 percent of the adult population - are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Injection drug users account for three-quarters of all HIV cases in Russia, and the epidemic is spreading rapidly to non-drug users. According to the United Nations, Russia's HIV infection rate is among the fastest-growing in the world. By 2020, HIV could afflict 14.5 million Russians, according to a study from the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.
Advances in antiretroviral therapies have the potential to stem the spread of the virus in Russia, but in 2005 less than 1 percent of HIV-infected Russians - 5,000 people - received the life-extending drugs.
The situation is worse among drug users. "Almost no injection drug users in Russia are getting antiretroviral drug therapy," said Owens.
Antiretroviral therapies now combine multiple individual drugs to reduce the amount of virus in a person's body. The cumulative effect of two or three medicines works better than a single one to keep the virus at bay. Antiretroviral therapies have the added benefit of reducing the chances that an infected person will transmit HIV to others.