Objective: To compare the rate of HIV disease progression in a sample of polydrug injectors (AIDS Link to Intravenous Experiences [ALIVE] study) with that in a sample of predominantly opiate injectors (Italian Seroconversion Study [ISS]).
Design: Prospective cohort studies of HIV-positive individuals whose date of seroconversion (SC) is known with a good degree of precision. The ALIVE study involves a community-based cohort of injection drug users (IDU) in the United States and the ISS reports on a clinic-based cohort of seroconverters in Italy with different exposure modalities to HIV.
Methods: Data from the two cohorts were combined. The date of SC was estimated as the midpoint in time between the last negative and the first positive HIV test. Time-to-event (i.e., AIDS or death from an infectious disease) statistical methods were used. Relative hazards (RH) of progression to event were adjusted by age at SC, gender, and year of SC.
Results: Of the 1003 IDUs (251 from ALIVE and 752 from ISS), 226 progressed to AIDS, and 146 died after AIDS or from an infectious disease; of these, 10 were without an AIDS diagnosis. The two groups of IDUs differed in terms of age at SC (median, 35 years for ALIVE and 25 years for ISS), proportion of women (24% versus 31%), race (7.6% versus 100% white), and year of seroconversion (i.e., ISS participants seroconverted, on average, earlier than ALIVE participants). Although the univariate analysis suggested possible differences for progression to AIDS, or to death from infectious disease between cohorts, multivariate analyses that adjusted for age showed no significant differences by cohort, gender, race, or time of seroconversion. The median time to AIDS for 25-year-old persons was 12.3 years for ALIVE and 11.8 years for ISS; for 35-year-old persons, it was 8.5 and 8.2 years, respectively. These estimates were similar to those for non-IDUs observed in the ISS and to those from large cohort of homosexual men.
Conclusion: Our results confirm the importance of accounting for age when considering the incubation period for HIV infection. Despite differences in drug use characteristics, the similar median times to AIDS, for each age, between the two cohorts of IDUs and between the IDUs and the non-IDUs suggest a negligible effect of injection drug use on HIV progression.