Background and methods: To examine the clinical course of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection in injection-drug users, we conducted a prospective study of a cohort of patients in a methadone-treatment program in New York City from July 1985 through December 1990. The patients underwent standardized evaluations at base line and semiannually thereafter and received on-site primary medical care. Rates of progression to the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and major outcomes before the development of AIDS were examined by univariate analyses; the risk of AIDS was also assessed by product-limit survival analysis and proportional-hazards regression.
Results: Of 318 HIV-seropositive patients who did not yet have AIDS (171 men and 147 women), 90 were black, 179 were Hispanic, and 49 were white; the median age was 33 years. Over a median of 3.0 years of follow-up, 55 (17 percent) received a diagnosis of AIDS (incidence per 100 person-years, 5.8). Major outcomes before the development of AIDS included oral candidiasis (incidence per 100 person-years, 11.2), pyogenic bacterial infections including pneumonia and sepsis (8.0), pulmonary tuberculosis (1.2), multiple constitutional symptoms (13.6), and herpes zoster (1.3). There were 41 deaths from AIDS, and 13 seropositive patients without AIDS (4.1 percent) died of bacterial infections, as compared with only 1 of 411 seronegative patients studied (P < 0.001). The incidence of AIDS was 62 percent lower among those who took zidovudine than among those who did not (P = 0.02). In the multivariate analysis, progression to AIDS was best predicted by low numbers and percentages of CD4+ lymphocytes, nonuse of zidovudine, and the presence of oral candidiasis, bacterial infections, or tuberculosis. There was no consistent relation between progression to disease and the continued use of injection drugs.
Conclusions: HIV-infected injection-drug users have progression to AIDS at rates comparable to those of other HIV-infected groups, but they have substantial pre-AIDS morbidity and mortality, particularly from bacterial infections, which also appear to predict disease progression.