Adhering to treatment during adolescence keeps HIV-positive youth on healthier track

American youth infected with HIV since around birth who take their medications and follow their treatment plan during adolescence and young adulthood are less likely to develop serious health problems than those with poor control of the disease, according to a study by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Massachusetts General Hospital researchers and colleagues.

The study was published online March 27, 2017 in JAMA Pediatrics.

“Adolescents infected with HIV – either at birth or later in life – experience poorer health outcomes compared to adults with HIV in nearly every respect,” said lead author Anne Neilan of the MGH Division of Infectious Diseases and the Medical Practice Evaluation Center in a statement. “The good news is that among those with good HIV control, serious health problems are rare.”

The study is the latest in the Pediatric HIV/AIDS Cohort Study (PHACS), a study established in 2006 by the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and eight other NIH Institutes to address the long-term safety of fetal and infant exposure to prophylactic antiretroviral (ART) chemotherapy, and to study the effects of perinatally acquired HIV infection in adolescents and young adults.

“This is the first generation of perinatally HIV-infected youth living to adulthood, and they are some of the most inspirational, resilient individuals you have ever met,” said co-author George Seage, professor of epidemiology at Harvard Chan School, in a press release. He leads the PHACS Data and Operations Center, which is based at Harvard Chan School.

Due to the use of effective ART in recent decades, less than 200 infants annually are born with HIV in the U.S. There now are roughly 10,000 perinatally HIV-infected youth in the U.S., most of whom are over age 18, according to the statement.

Read the MGH press release: Health problems may increase as adolescents, young adults infected with HIV at birth get older