The Role of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Asymptomatic Status When Starting Antiretroviral Therapy on Adherence and Treatment Outcomes and Implications for Test and Treat: The Swiss HIV Cohort Study

Clin Infect Dis. 2021 Apr 26;72(8):1413-1421. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciaa239.


Background: Since the advent of universal test-and-treat , more people living with human immunodeficiency virus (PLHIV) initiating antiretroviral therapy (ART) are asymptomatic with a preserved immune system. We explored the impact of asymptomatic status on adherence and clinical outcomes.

Methods: PLHIV registered in the Swiss HIV Cohort Study (SHCS) between 2003 and 2018 were included. We defined asymptomatic as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stage A within 30 days of starting ART, non-adherence as any self-reported missed doses and viral failure as two consecutive viral load>50 copies/mL after >24 weeks on ART. Using logistic regression models, we measured variables associated with asymptomatic status and adherence and Cox proportional hazard models to assess association between symptom status and viral failure.

Results: Of 7131 PLHIV, 76% started ART when asymptomatic and 1478 (22%) experienced viral failure after a median of 1.9 years (interquartile range, 1.1-4.2). In multivariable models, asymptomatic PLHIV were more likely to be younger, men who have sex with men, better educated, have unprotected sex, have a HIV-positive partner, have a lower viral load, and have started ART more recently. Asymptomatic status was not associated with nonadherence (odds ratio, 1.03 [95% confidence interval {CI}, .93-1.15]). Asymptomatic PLHIV were at a decreased risk of viral failure (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.87 [95% CI, .76-1.00]) and less likely to develop resistance (14% vs 27%, P < .001) than symptomatic PLHIV.

Conclusions: Despite concerns regarding lack of readiness, our study found no evidence of adherence issues or worse clinical outcomes in asymptomatic PLHIV starting ART.

Keywords: HIV; antiretroviral therapy; asymptomatic; clinical outcomes; universal test and treat.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-HIV Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Cohort Studies
  • HIV
  • HIV Infections* / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections* / epidemiology
  • Homosexuality, Male
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medication Adherence
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities*
  • Switzerland / epidemiology
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Viral Load


  • Anti-HIV Agents