Via aidsmap, by Michael Carter

Patients who start antiretroviral therapy when their CD4 cell count dipped below 500 cells/mm3 are less likely to develop an AIDS-defining illness than individuals who start treatment with a CD4 cell count of 350 cells/mm3, an international team of investigators report in the Annals of Internal Medicine. However, initiating HIV treatment with a CD4 cell count of approximately 500 cells/mm3 did not reduce the risk of all-cause mortality.

“If the goal is to prevent AIDS-defining illness or death, our findings support cART [combination antiretroviral therapy] initiation once the CD4 cell count decreases below 500 cells/mm3,” comment the investigators.

Nevertheless, results of the study will undoubtedly inform the debate about the best time to start antiretroviral therapy.Treatment guidelines in Europe currently recommend that AIDS-free patients should start therapy when their CD4 cell count is in the region of 350 cells/mm3. However, US guidelines advocate treatment when an individual’s CD4 cell count falls under 500 cells/mm3.

Large randomised trials are currently underway to try and determine the optimum time to start HIV therapy. However, their results are not expected for several years. Because of this continuing uncertainty investigators from the HIV-CAUSAL Collaboration undertook a prospective observational study involving approximately 21,000 adult patients enrolled in cohorts in Europe and the US.

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