VIENNA (Reuters) - Treating HIV patients with cocktails of AIDS
drugs helps to stop them spreading the infection further and more
than halved the number of new HIV diagnoses in a study in Canada,
scientists said on Sunday.
The findings show that treating those with HIV can not only help
them live longer with the often fatal and incurable disease but
can also be a powerful way of limiting the virus' spread.
Researchers found that since the introduction of a treatment plan
called highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) for HIV
patients in the Canadian province of British Columbia in 1996,
the number of new HIV diagnoses has fallen by 52 percent.
Their study also found that rates of other sexually transmitted
diseases went up, suggesting that it was the AIDS drugs and not
other confounding factors such as condom use or less sexual
activity, that produced a fall in HIV infections.
The results show that for every 100 patients placed on HAART new
HIV diagnoses fell by 3 percent, suggesting that this type of
treatment could significantly reduce the spread of the human
immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS.
Experts commenting on the findings, which were reported at an
international AIDS conference in Vienna on Sunday and in the
Lancet journal, said they should be used to shape future
"Experiences such as those reported today should be strongly
considered by clinicians, national and international agencies,
(and) policymakers," said Franco Maggiolo and Sebastiano Leone of
the Division of Infectious Diseases, Ospedali Riuniti in Italy,
in a commentary in the Lancet. "HAART might play an important
part in the future control of the HIV epidemic."
The AIDS virus infects 33.4 million people around the world and
has killed 25 million since the pandemic began in the 1980s.
There is no cure and no vaccine but drugs can keep patients
healthy. Without treatment, the virus destroys the immune system,
leaving patients susceptible to infections and cancer.
More than 20 drugs are now on the market and can be combined in
various ways to control HIV, although it usually mutates
eventually and patients must switch to different combinations to
keep it under control. Drugmakers include Gilead,
GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Merck & Co, Bristol-Myers Squibb and
The Canadian team, led by Julio Montaner at the British Columbia
Center for Excellence in Vancouver, analyzed data on HAART and
looked at viral load of HIV patients -- the level of virus in
their bodies -- and at new HIV diagnoses in the province, where
residents get free HIV care.
HAART involves treatment with three or more AIDS drugs, which can
be either more expensive branded medicines or cheaper generics,
which are available at knocked-down prices in poorer countries.
During three distinct time periods, researchers saw that the
number of people receiving HAART had a strong impact on viral
load and new diagnoses. As HAART coverage increased sharply, new
HIV diagnoses decreased sharply, and as HAART coverage
stabilized, so did viral load and new HIV diagnoses.
"Our results show a strong and significant association between
increased HAART coverage, reduced community viral load, and
decreased number of new HIV diagnoses," Montaner said.
The annual number of new HIV infections around the world was 2.7
million in 2008, the same as in the previous year. This was down
from 3 million in 2001.
(Editing by Alison Williams)