Background: The monitoring of patients with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection who are treated with antiretroviral medications in resource-limited settings is typically performed by use of clinical and immunological criteria. The early identification of first-line antiretroviral treatment failure is critical to prevent morbidity, mortality, and drug resistance. Misclassification of failure may result in premature switching to second-line therapy.
Methods: Adult patients in western Kenya had their viral loads (VLs) determined if they had adhered to first-line therapy for >6 months and were suspected of experiencing immunological failure (ie, their CD4 cell count decreased by 25% in 6 months). Misclassification of treatment failure was defined as a 25% decrease in CD4 cell count with a VL of <400 copies/mL. Logistic and tree regressions examined relationships between VL and 4 variables: CD4 T cell count (hereafter CD4 cell count), percentage of T cells expressing CD4 (hereafter CD4 cell percentage), percentage decrease in the CD4 T cell count (hereafter CD4 cell count percent decrease), and percentage decrease in the percentage of T cells expressing CD4 (hereafter CD4% percent decrease).
Results: There were 149 patients who were treated for 23 months; they were identified as having a 25% decrease in CD4 cell count (from 375 to 216 cells/microL) and a CD4% percent decrease (from 19% to 15%); of these 149 patients, 86 (58%) were misclassified as having experienced treatment failure. Of 42 patients who had a 50% decrease in CD4 cell count, 18 (43%) were misclassified. In multivariate logistic regression, misclassification odds were associated with a higher CD4 cell count, a shorter duration of therapy, and a smaller CD4% percent decrease. By combining these variables, we may be able to improve our ability to predict treatment failure.
Conclusions: Immunological monitoring as a sole indicator of virological failure would lead to a premature switch to valuable second-line regimens for 58% of patients who experience a 25% decrease in CD4 cell count and for 43% patients who experience a 50% decrease in CD4 cell count, and therefore this type of monitoring should be reevaluated. Selective virological monitoring and the addition of indicators like trends CD4% percent decrease and duration of therapy may systematically improve the identification of treatment failure. VL testing is now mandatory for patients suspected of experiencing first-line treatment failure within the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH) in western Kenya, and should be considered in all resource-limited settings.