Background: Before highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) became available, cytomegalovirus was a major cause of opportunistic infection in HIV-infected patients and was associated with accelerated progression to AIDS and death. We have investigated whether cytomegalovirus viraemia remains a significant risk factor for progression of HIV disease and death in the era of HAART.
Methods: 374 patients whose CD4-cell count had ever been below 100 per microL were enrolled in a prospective study. Serial blood samples were tested for cytomegalovirus by PCR. Rates of new cytomegalovirus disease, new AIDS-defining disorders, and death were calculated over a median follow-up of 37 months after stratification according to baseline and most recent cytomegalovirus PCR status at any point during follow-up.
Findings: Of 2969 PCR assays, 375 (12.6%) were positive for cytomegalovirus DNA. 259 (69.3%) patients were persistently negative for cytomegalovirus by PCR; 15 were persistently positive; and 100 were intermittently positive and negative. In multivariate models, cytomegalovirus PCR-positive status as a time-updated covariate was significantly associated with increased relative rates of progression to a new AIDS-defining disorder (2.22 [95% CI 1.27-3.88] p=0.005) and death (4.14 [1.97-8.70] p=0.0002).
Interpretation: Detection of cytomegalovirus in blood by PCR continues to identify patients with a poor prognosis, even in the era of HAART. Randomised controlled clinical trials of drugs active against cytomegalovirus are needed to investigate whether this virus is a marker or a determinant of HIV disease progression.