According to a just-released pair of studies out of the Netherlands, newly diagnosed HIV+ people will live a near-normal lifespan provided they begin treatment fairly soon after infection. With that proviso, a typical person diagnosed at age 25 is expected to live another 52.2 years, yielding an average lifespan scarcely different from the uninfected. It should be noted that patients who were forced to begin treatment within six months of infection due to an HIV-related illness were excluded from the study cohort.
During the study 118 patients died, indicating an annual mortality rate of 0.67% a year (one death in 150 patients a year). The only predictors, at 24 weeks, of death in the next few years were HIV-related but not AIDS-defining symptoms, coming from somewhere other than developed countries or sub-Saharan Africa, and age – there was a doubling in the risk of death for every 14 years older at diagnosis. This mortality rate enabled the researchers to compute life expectancies. For a patient diagnosed at the age of 25 the life expectancy came out at 52.7 years – in other words they would die, on average, at the age of 77.7. This was scarcely different to the life expectancy for 25 year olds in the general Dutch population – 53.1 years.
Men and women diagnosed aged 25 could expect to live just five months less than HIV-negative people and men diagnosed at age 55 would live 1.3 years less (women 1.5 years less). For patients diagnosed with HIV (but not AIDS) symptoms the figure was two years shorter for men and women diagnosed at 25, and six and 7.5 years shorter for men and women respectively diagnosed at 55. The researchers comment: “The life expectancy of asymptomatic HIV-infected patients who are still treatment-naive and have not experienced [an HIV or AIDS-defining symptom] at 24 weeks after diagnosis approaches that of age and gender-matched uninfected individuals.”
It should go without saying that while this is indeed encouraging news, the long-term side effects of HIV medications are increasingly thought to accelerate many physical and mental conditions normally seen in the very elderly. While HIV meds continue to be refined and improved, there is absolutely no excuse to carelessly shackle the rest of your life to often brutal chemotherapy.