Objective: To investigate whether clearance of Leishmania parasites from tissue aspirate smears in patients with HIV and visceral leishmaniasis (VL) co-infection treated with pentavalent antimonials is influenced by initial HIV viral load and to assess the effect of active VL on HIV viral load and replication in vivo.
Methods: Leishmania parasites were identified in Giemsa-stained smears prepared from tissue aspirates. Parasite index was determined by quantifying Leishmania donovani bodies in smears. HIV-1 RNA was quantitated by using the nucleic acid sequence-based amplification technique with a limit of detection of 500 copies/ml. All patients were treated with pentavalent antimonials at 20 mg pentavalent antimony (Sb(V))/kg daily for a total of 28 days. None of the patients received specific anti-retroviral therapy.
Results: Seventeen patients (73.9%) showed good initial response to anti-leishmanial treatment and the remaining six (26.1%) had very poor response. Among the good responders, 11 (64.7%) had no demonstrable Leishmania donovani bodies in post-therapy tissue aspirate smear preparations, and in the remaining six (35.3%) their parasite loads were reduced to very low levels. Patients with poor response had persistently high parasite index despite completion of anti-leishmanial chemotherapy. Poor responders had pre-treatment median HIV viral load that was >160-fold higher than responders to anti-leishmanial chemotherapy; [410000 copies/ml (quartile range, 33000-530000) and 2500 copies/ml (quartile range 500-297500), respectively]. Furthermore, compared with pre-treatment viral concentrations, patients with good response showed marked reduction in post-treatment viral load. In contrast, post-treatment HIV viral concentrations were markedly increased among patients with poor response to anti-leishmanial therapy.
Conclusions: The results suggest that pre-treatment HIV viral load influences response to anti-leishmanial chemotherapy and active VL is associated with increased viral replication in vivo, supporting the notion that dual infection plays an important role in the pathogenesis and disease progression of either infection.