The Austin Chronicle

About AIDS

November 20, 1998, Columns

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical School report that between women and men with the same HIV viral levels, the women may progress to AIDS faster. Studying 650 subjects, which is a fairly large group for a long-term study, they found that although the men and women progressed to AIDS at about the same time rate, the women averaged lower viral loads at time of AIDS diagnosis -- in fact, by about 50% average. (A diagnosis of AIDS can be either from having one of the dangerous "opportunistic illnesses" or just falling below a T4/CD4 count of 200, which is a measure of immune function that says the system is getting really weak.)

It could be that HIV acts differently in men and women, or behavioral differences between the sexes that might influence viral load measurements, or hormonal differences. This writer would also like to see the results replicated using a group of people who are not long-time drug abusers, as the folks in this study were.

The standard treatment guidelines, based on studies among men, recommend starting anti-HIV therapy when the viral load exceeds 10,000. Further studies are needed, but the authors suggest perhaps therapy should be considered for women at a lower viral load. This would help ensure that women with HIV infection are not inadvertently under-served by the medical system and that they reap whatever benefits may be available from early treatment. (For details, see The Lancet, 11/7/98.)

-- Sandy Bartlett, Community Information/Education Coordinator
AIDS Services of Austin

ASA Info Line: 458-AIDS. E-mail:

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