Younger people with HIV can live as long as those without it

But life expectancy for sufferers across general population still lower than nonsufferers

Ireland’s HIV rate is significantly higher than the EU average. Photograph: iStock

Ireland’s HIV rate is significantly higher than the EU average. Photograph: iStock

 

Life expectancy for young people with HIV in the western world is now similar to that of the general population, according to new research.

Recent advances in treatment mean that the life expectancy of a 20-year-old who contracts the virus and receives treatment has increased by a decade since the mid-1990s, the study published in the Lancet HIV medical journal states.

“Projections suggest that life expectancy of a 20-year-old who began treatment from 2008 onwards and had a low viral load after a year of treatment may approach that of the general population [about 78],” the study states.

However, life expectancy for people with HIV across the general population remains lower than nonsufferers.

Although anti-retroviral treatments are improving life-spans, the rate of new infections has been increasing in Ireland in recent years. In 2015, 485 new cases of HIV were recorded, an increase of 30 per cent on the previous year. Outbreaks of HIV among men who have sex with men and drug users make up a large part of the increase.

Ireland has a HIV rate of 10.6 per 100,000, significantly higher than the EU average of 6.3 per 100,000.

Not a death sentence

The authors of the new study hope the findings with help dispel the myth that HIV is effectively a death sentence and also encourage people to seek treatment earlier. They also hope the data will help people with HIV gain employment and obtain medical insurance.

“Combination antiretroviral therapy has been used to treat HIV for 20 years, but 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,” said lead author Adam Trickey of the University of Bristol in the UK.

Thanks to a variety of factors such as less toxic treatment drugs and better adherence to treatment programmes, a 20-year-old man with HIV can expect to live to about 73, while a woman can expect to live to about 76.

The study tracked 88,504 people with HIV from 18 European and North American cities who started antiretroviral treatment between 1996 and 2010.

Antiretroviral therapy first became widely used in 1996. It involves a combination of three drugs that block the virus from replicating in order to prevent and repair damage to the immune system.

The World Health Organisation now recommends antiretroviral therapy to be given as soon as possible after diagnosis to all people with HIV.