San Francisco: Earlier HAART Treatment Appears To Reduce New HIV Infections

According to a story posted on, San Francisco is seeing a decrease in new HIV infections because HIV+ people are going on medication sooner and therefore have a reduced period of infectiousness.

Dr Das presented more evidence from San Francisco to show a strong correlation between reductions in community viral load and the falling number of HIV diagnoses. The most recent CVL, defined as the average viral load of all HIV positive people being seen for care in the city, went down from approximately 25,000 copies/ml in 2004 to 10,000 copies/ml in 2009. Over the same time, new diagnoses of HIV decreased from 820 in 2004 to 500 in 2009. For CVL to decrease, a number of other things have to happen first, in a ‘cascade’ of events. Firstly, the frequency of testing in the at-risk population must increase; this must result in a lower proportion of undiagnosed cases; those diagnosed must be linked to care, and the majority must start treatment; and the time between diagnosis and viral suppression must reduce. Dr Das said all these indicators were strongly correlated. The average time from diagnosis to the start of treatment shrank from twelve months in 2004 to two months in 2009. The time between diagnosis and achieving an undetectable viral load went down from nearly three years in 2004 to eight months in 2009; and the percentage with an undetectable viral load within a year of diagnosis increased from 26% in 2004 to 82% in 2008.

Last April the San Francisco Department of Public Health adopted the controversial position that newly infected patients should immediately begin HAART therapy upon their diagnosis. Some AIDS activists strongly objected to that, citing the prevailing opinion that HAART treatment should be delayed as long as possible due to the long-term side effects of the medications. Many HIV specialists continue to recommend a closely-monitored delay in treatment, but the above result in San Francisco should not be discounted.

(Tipped by JMG reader Bill)