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HIV RNA Level Seen As Little Value In Predicting Treatment

A study in the September 27 issue of JAMA says that initial research indicates that the HIV RNA level in untreated HIV positive patients has little or no effect on CD4 cell count decrease. //This finding may lead to conflicts in opinion as to when antiretroviral therapy must begin.

Depletion of CD4 cells is a characteristic of progressive human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) disease and a powerful predictor of the short-term risk of progression to AIDS, according to background information in the article. Blood levels of HIV are also thought to predict HIV disease progression risk. In addition to their role as predictors of the clinical outcomes of HIV infection, CD4 cell count and plasma HIV RNA level are commonly used as markers of the success of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Until this study was completed, however, the degree to which blood levels of HIV could predict the rate of CD4 cell loss in HIV-infected individuals with similar demographic characteristics to those seen in clinical practice was unclear.

To address this question, Benigno Rodríguez, M.D., of Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, and colleagues conducted a study to estimate the extent to which presenting blood levels of HIV can account for or "explain" the rate at which CD4 cells are depleted among an untreated HIV-infected population of patients including women and ethnic minorities. The study included repeated analyses of 2 multicenter groups, with observations beginning in May 1984 and ending in August 2004. Analyses were conducted between August 2004 and March 2006.

The participants included antiretroviral treatment–na?ve, chronically HIV-infected persons (n = 1,289 and n = 1,512 for each of the 2 groups) who were untreated during the observation period (6 months or greater) and with at least 1 HIV RNA level and 2 CD4 cell counts available. Approximately 35 percent were nonwhite, and 35 percent had risk factors other than male-to-male sex
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