FRIDAY, Nov. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Providing antiretroviral therapy for the HIV-infected partner in a couple where only one person has HIV can help protect the uninfected partner from getting the virus, at least in the short term, according to a new study.
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Couples in which one partner has HIV while the other does not are known as "serodiscordant." The new study included more than 38,000 such couples in China who were followed for up to nine years. In about 24,000 of the couples, the HIV-infected partner received antiretroviral therapy.
The rate of HIV transmission to the uninfected partner was 26 percent lower in couples where the infected partner received antiretroviral therapy than in couples that received no treatment.
The protective effect of antiretroviral therapy, however, seemed to last for only one year, with HIV transmission rates becoming similar after the first year for treated and untreated couples, noted Yiming Shao, of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and colleagues.
They also found that prevention with antiretroviral treatment was not as effective when HIV-positive partners used injection drugs or had very high CD4 cell counts. Levels of CD4 cells -- a type of white blood cell that fights infection -- are used to monitor HIV progression.
The study was published online Nov. 30 in the journal The Lancet.
Overall, the findings support evidence from previous studies that antiretroviral treatment for HIV-infect partners in serodiscordant couples is a feasible and effective way to reduce HIV transmission to the uninfected partner, Shao concluded in a journal news release.
In an accompanying journal commentary, Sten Vermund, a professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, described the results as "encouraging." However, he questioned, "Can community, regional, national and international expertise and resources be mobilized to offer testing to all at-risk people at least yearly, link all infected people to care and offer antiretroviral therapy to a much higher proportion of infected people than receive it at present, alongside expanded combination prevention activities?"
The World Health Organization recommends that all HIV-positive partners in serodiscordant couples be offered antiretroviral therapy.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: The Lancet, news release, Nov. 30, 2012