Cause of death and presence of respiratory disease at autopsy in an HIV-1 seroconversion cohort of southern African gold miners

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To describe causes of death and respiratory infections in HIV-infected miners in the pre-antiretroviral era, by duration of HIV infection.


A retrospective cohort of 1950 gold miners with known dates of HIV seroconversion and 6164 HIV-negative miners was followed from the early 1990s to 2002.


Causes of death were available from multiple sources: personnel records, clinical records, death certificates and autopsies of cardiorespiratory organs performed for compensation purposes.


Causes of death were known for 279 of 308 HIV-positive (91%) and 234 of 254 HIV-negative (92%) men who died while employed or within 6 months of leaving employment. The mortality rate from unnatural causes was similar in HIV-positive and HIV-negative miners and by duration of HIV infection. Among deaths from natural causes, 87% in HIV-positive and 41% in HIV-negative individuals were caused by infection (P < 0.001); 47% of HIV-positive and 26% of HIV-negative individuals had tuberculosis. The proportion of deaths from natural causes with any infection, or with specific infections (tuberculosis, cryptococcus, pneumocystis), did not vary with the duration of HIV infection. Autopsies were performed on 29% of men who died from natural causes: 83% of HIV-positive and 37% of HIV-negative men had respiratory infections (P < 0.001), half of which were clinically undiagnosed.


Tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in HIV-positive and negative men who died from natural causes. Although the mortality rate from natural causes increased greatly with the duration of HIV infection, the pattern of disease hardly changed, suggesting that slow and fast progressors succumb to the same range of diseases.

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