Viremia, resuppression, and time to resistance in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) subtype C during first-line antiretroviral therapy in South Africa

Clin Infect Dis. 2009 Dec 15;49(12):1928-35. doi: 10.1086/648444.


Background: Episodes of viremia are common in African antiretroviral therapy (ART) programs. We sought to describe viremia, resuppression, and accumulation of resistance during first-line combination ART (cART) in South Africa.

Methods: Retrospective analysis of a cohort receiving zidovudine, lamivudine, and either efavirenz or nevirapine with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) RNA monitoring every 6 months. We assessed viremia (HIV RNA >1000 copies/mL after initial HIV RNA response) and resuppression (HIV RNA <400 copies/mL after viremia). Genotypic resistance testing was performed using stored plasma on a subset of patients at first detection of viremia and subsequently among patients with persistent viremia.

Results: Between 2002 and 2006, 3727 patients initiated cART (median CD4, 147 cells/mm(3)). Of 1007 patients who developed viremia, 815 had subsequent HIV RNA assays, and 331 (41%) of these resuppressed without regimen switch. At identification of viremia, 45 (66%) of 68 patients had HIV-1 drug resistance, 42 (62%) had nonnucleoside reverse-transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI)-resistance, 25 (37%) had M184V/I, and 4 (6%) had multi-nucleoside analogue drug mutations. By 12 months of persistent viremia among a subset of 14 patients with resistance testing to 12 months, 11 (78%) had nonnucleoside reverse-transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI)-resistance, 8 (57%) had M184V/I, and 2 (14%) had multi-nucleoside analogue drug mutations. Resistance was associated with a reduced probability of resuppression; however, 50% of patients with NNRTI resistance resuppressed while receiving an NNRTI.

Conclusions: The majority of patients had NNRTI resistance mutations at detection of viremia. However, 41% resuppressed without regimen switch. Our findings support maximizing first-line use while minimizing risk of significant cross-resistance by implementing intensive adherence support and repeat HIV RNA testing 3-6 months after detecting viremia, with regimen switch only if viremia persists.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-HIV Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Resistance, Viral
  • Female
  • HIV / classification
  • HIV / genetics
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • HIV Infections / virology
  • HIV Reverse Transcriptase / genetics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation
  • RNA, Viral / blood
  • South Africa
  • Time Factors


  • Anti-HIV Agents
  • RNA, Viral
  • HIV Reverse Transcriptase