Objective: To investigate if early treatment of primary HIV-1 infection (PHI) reduces viral set point and/or increases CD4 lymphocytes.
Methods: Analysis of two prospective multi-centre PHI cohorts. HIV-1 RNA and CD4 lymphocytes in patients with transient treatment were compared to those in untreated patients. Time to CD4 lymphocyte decrease below 350/ microl after treatment stop or seroconversion was calculated using Kaplan-Meier and Cox-PH-regression analyses.
Results: 156 cases of PHI were included, of which 100 had received transient HAART (median treatment time 9.5 months) and 56 remained untreated. Median viral load (563000 cop/ml vs 240000 cop/ml; p<0.001) and median CD4 lymphocyte (449/ microl vs. 613/ microl; p<0.01) differed significantly between treated and untreated patients. Median viral load was 38056 copies/ml in treated patients (12 months after treatment stop) and 52880 copies/ml in untreated patients (12 months after seroconversion; ns). Median CD4 lymphocyte change was +60/ microl vs. -86/ microl (p = 0.01). Median time until CD4 lymphocytes decreased to <350/ microl (including all patients with CD4 lymphocytes <500/ microl during seroconversion) was 20.7 months in treated patients after treatment stop and 8.3 months in untreated patents after seroconversion (p<0.01). Cox-PH analyses adjusting for baseline VL, CD4 lymphocytes, stage of early infection and symptoms confirmed these differences.
Conclusions: Treatment during PHI did not lower viral set point. However, patients treated during seroconversion had an increase in CD4 lymphocytes, whereas untreated patients experienced a decrease in CD4 lymphocytes. Time until reaching CD4 lymphocytes <350/ microl was significantly shorter in untreated than in treated patients including patients with CD4 lymphocytes <500/ microl during seroconversion.