HIV life expectancy rises in UK, study finds

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Life expectancy for people with HIV in the UK has increased by 15 years in the past decade, thanks to modern drugs and earlier treatment, a study suggests.

Health authorities should consider more widespread testing for HIV, given the benefits of early treatment, UK researchers report in the BMJ.

The Terrence Higgins Trust says people at risk should get tested now.

Figures suggest 80,000 people in the UK carry HIV, and about 25% are unaware they have the infection.

A team led by Dr Margaret May, of the University of Bristol, looked at the life expectancy of the average 20-year-old starting treatment with anti-retroviral drugs between 1996-1999 and 2006-2008.

During that time average life expectancy increased from 30 to almost 46 years from the time of diagnosis, according to the data, reported in the BMJ.

A woman with HIV could expect to live a decade longer than a man with HIV, perhaps because women are tested for HIV during pregnancy and are likely to start treatment earlier, the study found.

'Reassuring'

Co-author Dr Mark Gompels, of North Bristol NHS trust, said: "These results are very reassuring news for current patients and will be used to counsel those recently found to be HIV-positive."

The data

  • Data on 17,661 patients, of whom 1,248 (7%) died between 1996 and 2008
  • Life expectancy for the average 20-year-old with HIV increased from 30 to almost 46 years from the time of diagnosis between the periods 1996-9 and 2006-8
  • Life expectancy for women treated for HIV was 10 years' higher than for men
  • Starting anti-retroviral therapy later than guidelines suggest resulted in up to 15 years' loss of life

The HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust said it was good news for people with HIV, their families and friends.

Chief executive Sir Nick Partridge said: "It also demonstrates why it's so much better to know if you have HIV. Late diagnosis and late treatment mean an earlier grave, so if you've been at risk for HIV, get tested now.

"Of course, it's not just length of life that's important, but quality of life too, and having HIV can still severely damage your life's chances.

"While so much has changed 30 years on from the start of the epidemic, condoms continue to be the best way to protect yourself and your partner from HIV in the first place."

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