The results from a new University of Minnesota School of Public Health-sponsored global HIV study show that beginning antiretroviral drugs soon after diagnosis significantly benefits the health of HIV-positive individuals. Plus, early intervention, by lowering viral load, also reduces HIV transmission risk.
The discovery could trigger a dramatic shift in how the disease is treated on a global scale. Current WHO guidelines call for treatment to begin when CD4 counts fall below 500 (600–1,200 is considered healthy), not when the person is diagnosed.
Each year, roughly 2.1 million people contract HIV worldwide and an estimated 1.5 million people die from its AIDS-related illnesses.
The NIH-funded study, Strategic Timing of AntiRetroviral Treatment (START), involved 4,685 people at 215 sites in 35 countries.
The study began in 2011 and was slated to end in 2016. However, the study’s data and safety monitoring board (DSMB) recommended that results be released early to benefit HIV-positive individuals more quickly.
“The study was rigorous and the results are clear,” said Dr. Jim Neaton, biostatistics professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and lead author of the study, at an NIH press conference. “The definitive findings from a randomized trial like START are likely to influence how care is delivered to millions of HIV-positive individuals around the world.”
Learn more about the START results on the NIH website.