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Study: Rates of
HIV-induced dementia sky-high in Africa

Study: Rates of
HIV-induced dementia sky-high in Africa

The rate of HIV-associated dementia is so high in sub-Saharan Africa that it has become one of the most common types of dementia in the world, according to an international study led by Johns Hopkins Medical Institution. Alzheimer's and strokes are the other most frequent causes.

HIV dementia encompasses memory, learning, behavioral, and motor disabilities that interfere with normal daily life. In extreme cases, it can lead to total disability.

In the study, published in the current issue of Neurology, researchers found 31% of a small but representative group of 178 HIV-positive patients in Uganda were found to have HIV dementia.

"Clearly, large-scale testing would have to be conducted before we know the global reach of HIV dementia, but this study sends a clear message that it exists in high proportions in sub-Saharan Africa and is an underrecognized condition that needs to be studied and treated," said Ned Sacktor, a Johns Hopkins neurologist and senior author of the multi-institutional study.

Fortunately, HIV dementia, unlike the Alzheimer's- and stroke-induced varieties, is treatable with antiretroviral medication. Treatment can restore completely normal cognitive function to some of those affected.

Dementia disrupts jobs, adds to the cost of health care, and also interferes with a patient's ability to adhere to a regular course of antiretroviral medication, thus increasing the risk of drug resistance. People with dementia also are less likely to practice safe sex.

An estimated 27 million adults and children are HIV-positive in the sub-Saharan Africa. "If the rate we saw in our study translates across sub-Saharan Africa, we're looking at more than 8 million people in this region with HIV dementia," said Sacktor.

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