Anti-retroviral drug therapy has slashed AIDS death rates in the first five years after infection to equal the normal death rates in developed countries, scientists said Tuesday.
In a report published in the July 2 edition of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers said the use of multiple anti-retroviral drug "cocktails" to fight HIV/AIDS infections -- called highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) -- by 2006 had lowered first-five-year mortality to virtually the same level of the uninfected population.
After five years, the death rates still diverge with AIDS/HIV infected patients succumbing at an accelerating rate, the researchers said -- especially among older patients.
But HAART regimes have proven to have a strong impact in helping people survive the infection.
"Our results show the progress in reducing mortality among HIV-infected individuals toward the levels experienced by the general uninfected population," the researchers, led by Kholoud Porter and Krishnan Bhaskaran of the Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit of London, said in a summary of the research.
Their research was based on monitoring 16,534 HIV-infected individuals between 1981 and 2006.
Overall during the period 2,571 patients died, more than ten times the likely 235 deaths that would have been expected from a similar uninfected population.
But that excess mortality rate reflected a very high rate of deaths in the early years of the study before HAART regimes were widely available, the study said.
"Considering the first years following the widespread introduction of HAART, we have estimated an 88 percent reduction in excess mortality in 2000-2001 compared with pre-1996," it said.
"Our more recent data show that reductions have continued to 2004-2006, with excess mortality in this period 94 percent lower than pre-1996 levels."
By 2006, they added, "there was no evidence of any excess mortality to five years" among HIV/AIDS-infected individuals.