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HIV Patients Have Increased Risk of Pneumonia, Death Following Surgery

HIV-infected patients undergoing surgical procedures may be more likely to develop pneumonia after surgery //and to die within 12 months than those without HIV, according to a report in the December issue of Archives of Surgery, one of the JAMA/Archives journals. In addition, HIV patients with a preoperative viral load (number of copies of the virus in the blood) greater than 30,000 per milliliter appear to have increased risk of surgical complications.

Since the development of medication regimens known as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), HIV has become a chronic, manageable condition, according to background information in the article. “Consequently, many HIV-infected patients elect to undergo surgical procedures to correct physical ailments that would not have been treated previously, and undergo operative interventions in lieu of medical therapies for certain conditions,” the authors write.

Michael A. Horberg, M.D., M.A.S., and colleagues at Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program–Northern California, Oakland, studied surgical outcomes in 332 HIV-infected patients who underwent a variety of procedures (including abdominal, orthopedic and heart surgeries) between 1997 and 2002. For comparison, the researchers selected a group of 332 patients who did not have HIV but were the same age and sex and had a similar procedure at around the same time and at the same location as one of the HIV-infected patients. The investigators then used health plan databases to obtain clinical information about the HIV patients’ disease and to track whether any of the patients had complications after surgery or died within 12 months.

The surgical procedures analyzed included abdominal or pelvic procedures (80.8 percent), cardiac or breast procedures (8.4 percent) and orthopedic procedures (10.8 percent). Most complications—including infections and delayed wound healing—occurred equally frequently in patients with and without HIV. No differ ence between the two groups was found in the length of hospital stay, number of complications or need for additional procedures to treat complications. However, more HIV patients developed pneumonia (eight or 2.4 percent vs. one or .3 percent) and more died within 12 months (10 or 3 percent vs. two or .6 percent). “The causes of death varied” in HIV patients, the authors write. “While none of the causes appeared to be a direct consequence of the operation, two deaths were within 30 days of the operation.”

The researchers also examined risk factors for complications and death among HIV patients, including CD4 cell count response, a measure of the state of the immune system. The lower the CD4 count, the more likely a patient with HIV/AIDS is to develop secondary infections or illnesses. Those with a CD4 count of less than 50 cells per cubic millimeter of blood had more complications than those with higher CD4 counts. In addition, viral loads—measured as the number of copies of the virus in a milliliter of blood—of more than 30,000 were associated with a higher complication rate. Whether the patients were taking antiretroviral therapy did not appear to be related to their risk of developing complications. “Our results indicate that a higher HIV viral load seems to be a greater predictor of surgically related complications than either the CD4 cell count or the presence or absence of HAART use,” the authors write.

“Patients with HIV are living longer and regaining a substantial amount of immune function,” they conclude. “Many HIV-infected patients will require surgical attention because of a variety of disorders. In many cases, HIV serostatus [whether a person is infected with HIV or not] should not be a criterion when determining the need for surgery if patients have adequate viral control.”

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