Anti-HIV drug cocktails have slashed AIDS death rates in Western countries by more than 80%, and now most patients on the drugs can expect to live for more than a decade and perhaps longer, according to a study in the October 17 edition of the Lancet. Death rates were halved shortly after highly active antiretroviral therapy became available, and declined by more than 80% by 2001.
"Nine out of 10 people could expect to live for 10 years regardless of the age at which they became infected," said Kholoud Porter of the United Kingdom's Medical Research Council. "We haven't reached the medium yet, so it could be 17 or 20 years--we can't really say at the moment."
Before HAART, only about half of HIV-infected people could expect to be alive 10 years later, and fewer than half if they were over 40 when infected. Older people on HAART do not have a reduced life expectancy, but the study shows that injection-drug users are four times more likely to die of AIDS than men infected through sexual contact. Porter said long-term follow-up of HIV/AIDS patients is essential because the drugs are toxic and patients are showing resistance to them. "We hope we go on seeing survival improvements and that people infected with HIV will end up having the same survival expectations as people who are [HIV] negative," he said.