By Allan Tawai.
Patients diagnosed with HIV today can expect to live well into their mid-70s, a landmark report reveals today.
The study, published in the Lancet medical journal, highlights the progress made in the treatment of the virus in the last three decades.
In the 1980s, an HIV diagnosis was considered a death sentence because the virus invariably triggered the disease Aids.
However, effective antiretroviral drugs mean patients today often live as long as a healthy person.
The study, led by experts at Bristol University, was greeted as marking ‘a tremendous medical achievement’.
Scientists calculated that a 20-year-old man who started HIV treatment in Europe or the US between 2008 and 2010 could be expected to live until 73 and a woman until 76.
The figures also show HIV life expectancy has increased by nine years for women and ten years for men since the mid-1990s.
By comparison, the average British male was expected to live to 78 in 2010, and British women of 82.
The authors said their findings would encourage HIV-positive people to start treatment as soon as possible in the knowledge they could live a full life.
Lead author Adam Trickey, of the University of Bristol, said: ‘Our research illustrates a success story of how improved HIV treatments … can extend the lifespan of people diagnosed with HIV.
‘Newer drugs have fewer side effects, involve taking fewer pills, better prevent replication of the virus and are more difficult for the virus to become resistant to.’
Antiretroviral therapy, which first became widely used in 1996, involves a combination of drugs that block the HIV virus from replicating.
However, the drugs are expensive and make up a large part of the £360,000 cost of treating a patient with HIV over their lifetime.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘It’s a tremendous medical achievement that an infection that once had such a terrible prognosis is now so manageable.’
Dr. Michael Brady, of the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: ‘Today’s report reminds us just how far we’ve come since the start of the HIV epidemic in the 1980s.
‘In many cases, those who are on effective treatment can expect to live as long as their HIV-negative peers.’ Researchers analyzed data for 88,504 people with HIV who started treatment between 1996 and 2010 in Europe and North America.
They found fewer people who started treatment between 2008 and 2010 died during their first three years of treatment than those who started treatment between 1996 and 2007.
When looking specifically at deaths due to Aids, the number declined between 1996 and 2010, which the experts think is because the newer drugs were more effective at restoring the immune system.