Background: Despite increased antiretroviral therapy (ART) coverage and the raised CD4 threshold for starting ART, opportunistic infections (OIs) are still one of the leading causes of death in sub-Saharan Africa. There are few studies from resource-limited settings on long-term reporting of OIs other than tuberculosis.
Methods: Patients starting ART between April 2004 and April 2005 were enrolled and followed-up for 10 years in Kampala, Uganda. We report incidences, patterns and risk factors using Cox proportional hazards models of OIs among all patients and among patients with CD4 cell counts >200 cells/μL.
Results: Of the 559 patients starting ART, 164 patients developed a total of 241 OIs during 10 years of follow-up. The overall incidence was highest for oral candidiasis (25.4, 95% confidence interval (CI): 20.5-31.6 per 1000 person-years of follow-up), followed by tuberculosis (15.3, 95% CI: 11.7-20.1), herpes zoster (12.3, 95% CI: 9.1-16.6) and cryptococcal meningitis (3.0, 95% CI: 1.7-5.5). Incidence rates for all OIs were highest in the first year after ART initiation and decreased with the increase of the current CD4 cell count. Factors independently associated with development of OIs were baseline nevirapine-based regimens, time-varying higher viral load, time-varying lower CD4 cell count and time-varying lower hemoglobin. In patients developing OIs at a current CD4 cell count >200 cells/μL, factors independently associated with OI development were time-varying increase in viral load and time-varying decrease in hemoglobin, whereas a baseline CD4 cell count <50 cells/μL was protective.
Conclusion: We report high early incidences of OIs, decreasing with increasing CD4 cell count and time spent on ART. Ongoing HIV replication and anemia were strong predictors for OI development independent of the CD4 cell count. Our findings support the recommendation for early initiation of ART and suggest close monitoring for OIs among patients recently started on ART, with low CD4 cell count, high viral load and anemia.