Comparison of Clinical Manifestations of HIV Infection Among Women by Risk Group, CD4+ Cell Count, and HIV-1 Plasma Viral Load

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Abstract

Objectives:

To compare the prevalence of HIV-related symptoms, physical examination findings, and hematologic variables among women whose risk for HIV is injection drug use since 1985 as opposed to sexual contact and to evaluate the influence of HIV plasma viral load and CD4+ cell count on clinical manifestations according to risk.

Methods:

Participants of the HIV Epidemiology Research Study (HERS; a multicenter, prospective, controlled study of HIV infection in women) were administered a risk behavior and symptom interview, underwent a physical examination, and received hematologic testing, including CD4+ cell counts done on study entry. Plasma HIV-1 viral loads were performed on stored frozen plasma using an ultrasensitive branched-DNA (b-DNA) signal amplification assay. CD4+ counts were categorized as <200 cells/μl, 200 to 499 cells/μl, or ≥500 cells/μl, and HIV viral loads were characterized in tertiles.

Results:

Cross-sectional analysis was conducted on data available for 724 HIV-infected women: 387 had a history of intravenous drug use and 337 were infected through heterosexual contact. The median CD4+ count was 376 cells/μl; the median HIV-1 viral load was 1135 copies/ml; and 281 of 724 HIV-infected women (38.8%) had an undetectable HIV-1 viral load. In analyses adjusting for CD4+ cell level alone and for plasma viral load combined with CD4+ cell level, injection drug users (IDUs) were more likely than those infected through heterosexual contact to report a recent episode of memory loss and weight loss, but less likely to have recent episodes of genital herpes; to have enlarged livers and a body mass index (BMI) <24, and to have hematocrit levels <34% and platelet counts <150,000 cells/ml. After adjustment for CD4+ cell level and risk group, high and medium HIV-1 plasma viral load levels were associated with the presence of oral hairy leukoplakia on examination, and only the highest level of plasma viral load was associated with recent histories of fever and thrush, oral hairy leukoplakia, pseudomembranous candidiasis, and BMI <24 on examination, and hematocrit <34%.

Conclusions:

In this cohort of women, the distribution of HIV-1 plasma viral load was lower than that previously reported in populations of HIV-infected men. This study also shows some differences in frequency of signs, symptoms, and laboratory values between risk groups of HIV-infected women, but these results may be due to effects of injection drug use rather than HIV infection. Signs and symptoms identified as associated with increasing levels of viral load that were not different across risk groups suggest more direct association of these findings with HIV infection.

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