The life expectancy for young, HIV-positive adults in America today is nearly the same as that of the general population, according to a new study.
The findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE, show that a 20-year-old adult in the U.S. or Canada who is receiving antiretroviral therapy can be expected to live into his or her early 70s.
The study is based on data from nearly 23,000 people who are HIV-positive and on antiretroviral therapy, and who were 20 years or older. Researchers from the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the North American AIDS Cohort Collaboration on Research and Design examined the death rates among these people from the early to mid-2000s, in order to see how life expectancy increased or decreased from 2000 to 2007.
Researchers found that life expectancy among HIV-positive adults taking antiretrovirals at age 20 increased dramatically, going from 36.1 in 2000 to 2002 to 51.4 in 2006 to 2007.
Based on these increases in life expectancy, the researchers calculated that "a 20-year-old individual on ART today in the U.S. or Canada would expect to live into their early 70s, a life expectancy that approaches that of a 20-year-old person in the general population," they wrote in the study.
However, life expectancy was not identical for all HIV-positive people examined in the study. Researchers found that people who had a history of injection drug use, non-white people, and people who had a low CD4 count when starting antiretroviral therapy (versus a high CD4 count) had a lower life expectancy.
Researchers explained in the study how antiretroviral therapy may play into the improved life expectancy:
In the early years of ART availability, mortality was highest in the first year after ART initiation, but this has decreased over time. The modern ART era, in which mortality has become increasingly dependent on duration of ART, is characterized by a greater proportion of patients with longer follow-up. Therefore, the increase in life expectancy in the more recent time periods may reflect both a lower mortality rate in patients initiating ART and the mortality in those with a longer duration of ART use.