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Author Topic: Only 19% of HIV-positive individuals in the US have an undetectable viral load  (Read 5201 times)

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Offline Miss Philicia

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  • Posts: 24,793
  • celebrity poster, faker & poser
"shocking" is indeed an understatement


Test-and-treat not enough to control HIV epidemic in the US

Michael Carter
Published: 25 March 2011

Only 19% of HIV-positive individuals in the US have an undetectable viral load, and this means that a “test-and-treat” strategy by itself will not be enough to control the country’s HIV epidemic, investigators argue in the March 15th edition of Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Late diagnosis, low levels of referral and retention in specialist HIV care, and sub-optimal adherence to antiretroviral therapy all undermined the potential for test-and-treat to eradicate transmission of the virus.

“This review demonstrates that incomplete engagement in HIV care is common in the United States and that incompletely engaged individuals account for the largest proportion of HIV-infected individuals with detectable viremia,” comment the investigators, who believe their findings “have direct implications for test-and-treat programs, because disengaged individuals continue to contribute to the ongoing transmission of HIV infection.”

The investigators also estimated that even in the best-case scenarios over a third of HIV-positive individuals in the US would still have a detectable viral load and therefore be at risk of transmitting the virus to others.

Prof. Joep Lange in his accompanying editorial described the small proportion of US patients with an undetectable viral load as “shocking.” He argued that “combination prevention” was the best hope of controlling the epidemic.

Improvements in HIV treatment and care mean that many HIV-positive patients now have a realistic hope of a normal prognosis. To have the best hope of this outcome individuals need to have their infection diagnosed early, utilise specialist HIV care services, initiate antiretroviral therapy at the optimum time, and have high levels of adherence to their treatment.

Another advantage of antiretroviral therapy is its impact on infectiousness. Patients who have an undetectable viral load when taking HIV treatment are at very low risk of transmitting the virus to others. Therefore, a test-and-treat strategy has been advocated as a way of not only improving the life-expectancy of patients already infected with the virus, but also as a way of controlling the epidemic.

Investigators from the US wished to see if this approach to prevention was realistic.

There are approximately 1.1 million HIV-infected individuals in the US, and HIV incidence in the country is steady at around 56,000 new infections each year.

Rates of HIV testing in the US have increased in recent year, but approximately a fifth of all infections are still undiagnosed. The investigators note that undiagnosed individuals “cannot engage in treatment that reduces morbidity and mortality, may participate more often in high-risk HIV transmission behavior, and have a higher risk of transmitting HIV to others than do those who are aware of their HIV infection.”

Failure to link patients with specialist care after their diagnosis is also common. The investigators found that 25% of newly-diagnosed individuals were not successfully linked to HIV care within six-twelve months of their diagnosis, and between 10%-20% of patients remained unengaged in care three to five years after their diagnosis.

Rates of retention in care were also found to be far from perfect. “50% of known HIV-infected individuals are not engaged in regular HIV care,” comment the investigators, adding “poor engagement in care is associated with poor health outcomes, including increased mortality. In addition, these individuals contribute to ongoing transmission in the community.”

But being in care did not guarantee that patients would receive optimum therapy. The investigators calculated that on the basis of current guidelines, 80% of in-care patients were eligible for antiretroviral therapy. However, approximately 27% of individuals either declined this treatment or failed to initiate it for some other reason.

Moreover, results from cohort studies suggest that between 4% - 6% of patients stop taking their HIV therapy each year.

Newer anti-HIV drugs are powerful, have generally mild side-effect profiles, and forgiving adherence requirements. Nevertheless, the researchers found that between 13% - 22% of patients taking antiretroviral therapy still have a detectable viral load and are at risk of transmitting the virus to others.

After taking into account all these factors the investigators calculated that only 210,000 HIV-positive patients in the US have an undetectable viral load. These patients constitute just 19% of the HIV-infected population in the US.

“With > 80% of HIV-infected individuals in the United States having detectable HIV viremia, it is not surprising that the incidence of HIV infection has not decreased in the United States despite almost 15 years of widespread access to antiretroviral therapy,” comment the investigators.

However, they also found that even in a best-case scenario, a test-and-treat strategy would not be sufficient to control the HIV epidemic.

They write: “Diagnosis of 90% of HIV infections, achievement of 90% engagement in care, treatment of 90% of engaged individuals, and suppression of viremia in 90% of treated individuals could lead to considerable improvements in the proportion of HIV-infected individuals in the United States with undetectable viral loads. However, even in this ideal scenario, approximately 34% of HIV-infected individuals will remain viremic, with the potential to spread HIV infection to others.”

The researchers therefore conclude, “complete eradication of HIV infection through test-and-treat programs is unlikely.”

Nevertheless, they believe that “incremental improvements in methods to overcome the greatest care challenges today in the United States – undiagnosed HIV infection and inadequate engagement in HIV care – will improve the care of HIV-infected populations and decrease the incidence of HIV infection in the future.”

In his accompanying editorial, Prof. Lange suggests that the study shows the limitations of a test-and-treat approach.

He writes: “It is unlikely that ‘test and treat’ strategies by themselves, even if vigorously and comprehensively pursued, will be sufficient to end the epidemic. It should be clear that ‘combination HIV prevention’, using a mix of available prevention tools, including ‘test and treat’ strategies, in a context-specific manner based on knowledge about local, national, and regional epidemics, is the way forward.”


Gardner EM et al. The spectrum of engagement in HIV care and its relevance to test-and-treat strategies for prevention of HIV infection. Clin Infect Dis 52: 793-800, 2011 (click here for the free abstract).

Lange JMA. “Test and Treat”: is it enough? Clin Infect Dis, 52: 801-02, 2011 (click here for the text [£]).
"I’ve slept with enough men to know that I’m not gay"

Offline Assurbanipal

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  • Taking a forums break, still see PM's
One wonders how up to date the studies are is on which this conclusion is based.  It is often the case that it takes several years for data to be compiled, and as you pointed out in a recent post, it was only when a large number of new drugs were released more or less simultaneously in 2006/2007, that many people who helped by the first wave of HAART were able to get to undetectable.  I remember a lot of discussion on the forums around the time I joined regarding people who were undetectable for the first time, or the first time in a long time. 

If their data on percent undetectable includes years prior to 2008 might they be significantly understating the percentage?  And how are they treating blips?  Is the conclusion markedly different if you ask how many people had quite low viral loads (UD or a blip) in, say ...2010?
5/06 VL 1M+, CD4 22, 5% , pneumonia, thrush -- O2 support 2 months, 6/06 +Kaletra/Truvada
9/06 VL 3959 CD4 297 13.5% 12/06 VL <400 CD4 350 15.2% +Pravachol
2007 VL<400, 70, 50 CD4 408-729 16.0% -19.7%
2008 VL UD CD4 468 - 538 16.7% - 24.6% Osteoporosis 11/08 doubled Pravachol, +Calcium/D
02/09 VL 100 CD4 616 23.7% 03/09 VL 130 5/09 VL 100 CD4 540 28.4% +Actonel (osteoporosis) 7/09 VL 130
8/09  new regimen Isentress/Epzicom 9/09 VL UD CD4 621 32.7% 11/09 VL UD CD4 607 26.4% swap Isentress for Prezista/Norvir 12/09 (liver and muscle issues) VL 50
2010 VL UD CD4 573-680 26.1% - 30.9% 12/10 VL 20
2011 VL UD-20 CD4 568-673 24.7%-30.6%
2012 VL UD swap Prezista/Norvir for Reyataz drop statin CD4 768-828 26.7%-30.7%
2014 VL UD - 48
2015 VL 130 Moved to Triumeq

Offline denb45

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  • "1987 Classic Old School POZ+"
Well, I've been UD since 2006 when I started FEUZEON injections, and still remain so today, so that 19% is me and a lot of others as well  ;)
"it's so nice to be insane, cause no-one ask you to explain" Helen Reddy cc 1974

Offline newt

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  • Posts: 3,896
  • the one and original newt
Hello socialised medicine...alternatively, let them Senators from certain states hate their own citizens as "unclean buggers not worthy of an aspirin" (New York 2006, more or less that quote, thankfully there are allies and sane people on The Hll too).

America, you are a great country, I love your people and your lands. American politicians tho, on the whole you are more oily and self-serving than mine and wouldn't know sound policy and common humanity if ithey double-dicked you in your booty-holes.

- matt
"The object is to be a well patient, not a good patient"

Offline tednlou2

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  • Posts: 5,731
I've read that many young people diagnosed in their late teens and early to mid 20's will often see a doctor initially, but then drop out of care--often until they get sick.  I guess these folks make up a large percentage of those numbers.  I'm really surprised by that 19% figure.

Offline hope_for_a_cure

  • Member
  • Posts: 1,513
If similar surveys were done here on the AIDSMEDS population it would be much higher no doubt. 

This drives home the fact that indifference towards this virus by those who dont have it as well as those who do (but dont know) is rampit.  I am somewhat shocked to see such a low UD percentage though.  Several factors are at play here (as mentioned) that will drive this number lower. 

Matt your assessment of our politicians is correct.  Its a career for most of them and they are just aiming for bigger and better offices to hold.  Our economy is a shambles and there are really no resources available unless a new war or Wall Street/Banking related fiasco is at hand. 


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