Does Patient Sex Affect Human Immunodeficiency Virus Levels?

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We undertook a critical epidemiological review of the available evidence concerning whether women have lower levels of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) RNA than do men at similar stages of HIV infection. The 13 studies included in this analysis reported viral load measurements in HIV-infected men and women at a single point in time (cross-sectional studies) or over time (longitudinal studies). Seven of the 9 cross-sectional studies demonstrated that women had 0.13-0.35 log10 (˜2-fold) lower levels of HIV RNA than do men, despite controlling for CD4+ cell count. Four longitudinal studies revealed that women had 0.33-0.78 log10 (2- to 6-fold) lower levels of HIV RNA than do men, even when controlling for time since seroconversion. Adjustment for possible confounders of the relationship between sex and viral load, including age, race, mode of virus transmission, and antiretroviral therapy use, did not change this outcome. This finding is significant, because viral loads are frequently used to guide the initiation and modification of antiretroviral therapy.

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