Background: We previously reported that integrating antiretroviral therapy (ART) with tuberculosis treatment reduces mortality. However, the timing for the initiation of ART during tuberculosis treatment remains unresolved.
Methods: We conducted a three-group, open-label, randomized, controlled trial in South Africa involving 642 ambulatory patients, all with tuberculosis (confirmed by a positive sputum smear for acid-fast bacilli), human immunodeficiency virus infection, and a CD4+ T-cell count of less than 500 per cubic millimeter. Findings in the earlier-ART group (ART initiated within 4 weeks after the start of tuberculosis treatment, 214 patients) and later-ART group (ART initiated during the first 4 weeks of the continuation phase of tuberculosis treatment, 215 patients) are presented here.
Results: At baseline, the median CD4+ T-cell count was 150 per cubic millimeter, and the median viral load was 161,000 copies per milliliter, with no significant differences between the two groups. The incidence rate of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) or death was 6.9 cases per 100 person-years in the earlier-ART group (18 cases) as compared with 7.8 per 100 person-years in the later-ART group (19 cases) (incidence-rate ratio, 0.89; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.44 to 1.79; P=0.73). However, among patients with CD4+ T-cell counts of less than 50 per cubic millimeter, the incidence rates of AIDS or death were 8.5 and 26.3 cases per 100 person-years, respectively (incidence-rate ratio, 0.32; 95% CI, 0.07 to 1.13; P=0.06). The incidence rates of the immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (IRIS) were 20.1 and 7.7 cases per 100 person-years, respectively (incidence-rate ratio, 2.62; 95% CI, 1.48 to 4.82; P<0.001). Adverse events requiring a switching of antiretroviral drugs occurred in 10 patients in the earlier-ART group and 1 patient in the later-ART group (P=0.006).
Conclusions: Early initiation of ART in patients with CD4+ T-cell counts of less than 50 per cubic millimeter increased AIDS-free survival. Deferral of the initiation of ART to the first 4 weeks of the continuation phase of tuberculosis therapy in those with higher CD4+ T-cell counts reduced the risks of IRIS and other adverse events related to ART without increasing the risk of AIDS or death. (Funded by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and others; SAPIT ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00398996.).