Tag - aging with HIV

aging with HIV

Good News in Aging with HIV

David Alain Wohl, MD – The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


“HIV medicine has transitioned from an oncological mode created to manage a progressive and complicated fatal disease to a model that more closely resembles a diabetes clinic, where lab metrics are used to plot a long-term course that avoids complications. For our patients to not only survive but thrive we need a new way to support them that recognizes their outsized risk for physical and psychological co-morbidities and the entrenched toxic social and emotional challenges that feed these conditions and, also, make addressing them difficult. The next leap forward in HIV management could be the development of a comprehensive approach to co-morbidity detection and intervention – one that can be readily implemented across HIV clinics, be they in Birmingham or Boston. Designing and implementing such a program, with input from experts in prevention and geriatric medicine, can be yet another example of HIV care leading the way.”


Each medical conference has a vibe. The data, the venue, and even the host city, can shape the mood of the attendees as they crisscross on the escalators and queue at the food courts, toting their brightly-colored conference backpacks. CROI 2017 was like the Seattle weather that week in February – partly sunny with cloud-streaked blue skies but the occasional day of rain. With cheekily named sessions showcasing generally positive results, there was a collective nod of approval as we continue to close gaps, expand treatment, and identify new targets to mess with. At the same time, there were gloomy footnotes pointing to seemingly intractable challenges, like getting ART and PrEP to all in need and addressing high rates of co-morbidities, especially among our aging HIV-infected patients.

CROI, above all else, offers guidance on how to optimize well-being for those living with HIV infection, whether through avoidance of a particular antiretroviral or by adopting an intervention to prevent a comorbidity. At this year’s conference, there were no findings to suggest HIV+ people or their providers do anything radically different. There were the expected echoes of prior messages regarding the higher risk of frailty and its components among those who are HIV-infected, the dangers of smoking and substance use, as well as not wholly surprising data regarding the effects of protease inhibitors on cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. But, the together, the data form a booming chorus, extolling us to move from tabulating the acronymic conditions (this means use of these short terms: CVD, DM, CKD, HTN, etc) that can pile-on to make long-term HIV survival miserable, to tackling them.

As suggested by the studies described below, approaches to prevent and treat co-morbid conditions that disproportionately hit people living with HIV are not hidden and undiscovered. It is not for the want of some novel (read: expensive) anti-inflammatory that HIV-positive people suffer a stroke or get lung cancer. Tools that can dramatically reduce co-morbidities abound. The problem is that we as HIV providers have yet to fully grasp them.

CVD Prevention Model

There are studies that sound alarms about a problem, and others that provide guidance on how to actually fix the problem. A nice study modeling the impact of several interventions to blunt the rise in CVD among people living with HIV conducted by a Dutch team is one of the latter (1). The interventions explored in this simulation included the very early start of ART, avoidance of protease inhibitors (see below) and abacavir, smoking cessation (see below), and intensified treatment of hypertension and dyslipidemia. Complete (100%) and partial (50%) uptake of each individual intervention was explored individually in the model, which used data collected in the ATHENA Cohort to populate the simulated patient population.

These simulations predicted all the selected interventions to have a positive effect in reducing CVD from now to 2030, but to very different extents. Earlier ART had the least impact, and cardio-friendly ART was only slightly better. In contrast, the traditional and time-tested interventions of smoking cessation and optimization of blood pressure and lipids were predicted to prevent many more CVD events, even if only half-heartedly embraced.CROI1

The Bottom Line: Although modeling studies are inherently imperfect, this complex exercise supports other data (and some common sense) regarding CVD prevention in HIV-positive people. We can fuss over ART regimen composition, but it is smoking, hypertension, lipids, glucose control and other routine health maintenance components that are the bigger tickets worth punching to prevent CVD and almost certainly other co-morbid disease.

So, the good news is that the tools we can use to beat back the specter of CVD are widely available and supported by decades of implementation research. The bad news is that we have not been as successful as need to be to apply these CVD prevention interventions to the management of HIV. This is highlighted by an analysis of data from the NA-ACCORD cohort study that found a persistent, albeit narrowing, gap between guideline indications for statin therapy and the prescription of a statin over time (2). In 2013, 53% of HIV-positive patients at NA-ACCORD clinics for whom a statin was indicated had not been prescribed this medication.

The magic bullet for HIV aging may not be some novel anti-inflammatory molecule but medications that can be found on the Walmart $4 list. Identifying effective ways to incorporate health maintaining interventions into our HIV clinics and achieve patient acceptance and adherence to these, sometimes unpopular, measures, may go a long way to addressing the age-related problems that HIV-infected persons disproportionately endure – and be a more efficient way to spend HIV research dollars.

Quantifying the Risk of Cancer after Smoking Cessation

It is a non-alternative fact (i.e., a plain old fact) that smoking causes cancer and that the risk of malignancy drops over time with smoking cessation. However, the extent that cancer risk can be expected to decline after quitting is not clear among those with HIV-infection, who appear to be more susceptible to the carcinogenic effects of cigarette smoking than those uninfected with HIV. To get at this, D:A:D investigators looked at cancers developing in those who were cancer free when entering the cohort study, and then explored associations with smoking history (3). Of 1,980 incident cancers, 242 were lung cancer, and 487 smoking-related non-lung cancers. Smoking history was categorized as never smoker, current smoker, ex-smoker at baseline, and ex-smoker during the study follow-up. At baseline, only 31% had never smoked. As expected, smokers had higher risks for lung and the other related cancers compared to never smokers. After cessation of smoking, the overall risk of cancer, as well as the risk of non-lung smoking-related cancers, dropped over the next 5+ years; however, the risk of lung cancer remained largely unchanged after quitting.


The Bottom Line: These are concerning data in that they suggest a durable effect of smoking on cancer risk that is not appreciably ameliorated by smoking cessation. This finding is in contrast to studies in the HIV-uninfected and remains unexplained. Although this is a large cohort of HIV-positive people, the number of lung cancers was small at 242 and relatively few ex-smokers had been followed long term. Therefore, with more time, additional data will be available to confirm or adjust this finding.





Meanwhile, as abundantly suggested, getting HIV-infected people to stop smoking is second only to ART as a health priority. The message from this study must not be that stopping smoking will not reduce the risk of cancer, but that it will, here it did for both non-lung smoking cancers and cancers overall.

Knowing Frailty when you see it

Think frail and conjured is the image of a stooped elder, a strong breeze away from a fractured hip and subdural hematoma. However, frailty is more complicated and is based in a theoretical framework to better understand and predict the risk for morbidity, hospitalization, and death by taking into account loss of body mass, strength, endurance, gait speed, and physical activity.

A number of studies have convinced us that the frailty phenotype is more common among HIV-infected people, although as is the case for most all age-related complications the exact magnitude of any contribution by the virus and/or ART to this risk remains murky. At CROI, there were additional reports regarding frailty, its prevalence and determinants, that underscore the need for HIV providers to appreciate the forest of this concept, more than the trees of conditions such as CVD and osteoporosis that can contribute to it:

•An analysis of 954 patients age 40 years and older (15% greater than age 60), participating in ACTG ART treatment trials and regularly assessed for fragility and neurocognitive impairment (NCI) found that the risk of falls, worsening disability, and death were highest in those with frailty compared to those with NCI alone (4). The combination of NCI and frailty was the riskiest. Of the select adverse events, falls were the most common. The authors point is that attention to frailty may be a more appropriate target for intervention than NCI.

•That the road to frailty can be a two-way street was made clear by an analysis from the ALIVE Cohort in Baltimore (5). This study enrolls and follows HIV-infected and -uninfected participants with a history of injection drug use. A strength of this cohort is that the uninfected participants suffer from many of the same conditions and environmental stresses experienced by HIV-infected people and that can confound other studies where the controls are less well-matched. Looking at the “frailty transitions” of over 1,300 ALIVE participants (a third HIV+), decreased frailty progression and increased frailty recovery were both associated with major sociodemographic characteristics including education attainment and employment. Having fewer co-morbidities, including depression, was also associated with the frailty outcomes. After adjustment for these factors, HIV infection was still associated with risk of frailty progression and lower likelihood of frailty recovery. In the fully adjusted models, HIV virologic suppression, elevated CD4 nadir (>500/mm3) and absence of a prior AIDS diagnosis were all significantly associated with reduced frailty progression and improved frailty recovery. An inflammation index based on blood IL-6 and sTNFR1 levels and applied to a subset of participants found an association between frailty progression and recovery with the inflammation index in the expected directions, , i.e. lower inflammation markers are associated with increased survival and higher inflammation markers are associated with frail progression (from Jules: remember, exercise & healthy diet like the Mediterranean diet reduce inflammation markers). This study nicely highlights not just the mutable disease-specific targets for intervention to prevent and recover from frailty, such as early and successful HIV treatment and co-morbidity treatment and prevention, but also the environmental factors that contribute to poor health. These were quite potent and included depression, education, and employment – structural issues that are not only the fodder for headlines but also have direct effects on our health.

The Bottom Line: HIV care providers need to become more familiar with frailty. There have been many CME programs on aging and inflammation, and shifting attention to what may be an overarching issue of frailty and pre-frailty is warranted given the prevalence of this syndrome and its impact on health. Just as we have seen cardiologists, neurologists, and nephrologists specialize in relevant HIV-related conditions, it is time we reached out to geriatricians to do likewise. A handful of HIV clinics have already adopted a geriatrics model and more need to follow. For example, falls risk assessments, which I suspect no card-carrying HIV provider knows how to do properly, can identify those who are at greatest risk and most likely to benefit from intervention. Those with peripheral neuropathy, which enhances falls risk, deserve particular attention. These data suggest we may help our patients more by assessing for frailty than many of the things we do such as listening to their chest with a stethoscope.


The Die is Cast at the START

The START trial famously demonstrated that earlier ART administration prevented AIDS and serious non-AIDS events. In addition, this study, like others, found an association between markers of inflammation and coagulation and these events. Expanding on this latter work, the team examined baseline (i.e., pre-ART) inflammation markers (IL-6, hsCRP, serum amyloid A [SAA], sICAM, sVCAM), an immune activation marker (IL-27), and a coagulation marker (D-dimer) and clinical outcomes among the 2,124 participants in the immediate ART group and the 2,175 participants in the deferred ART group (6).

After adjustment for age, gender, treatment arm, and region, higher levels of D-dimer and IL-6 were associated with risk for both AIDS and serious non-AIDS events. In addition, SAA and sICAM were associated with AIDS. AIDS events were driven by TB disease and non-AIDS events by CVD. IL-6 was associated with CVD risk.

The Bottom Line: Having elevated markers of inflammation and coagulation can’t be a good thing and once again we see that to be the case. Among those entering the START trial, those harboring higher levels of IL-6 and D-dimer had a heightened risk of AIDS and serious non-AIDS events. This makes sense and points to these markers being an indicator of a brewing badness that may not be clinically evident (and may not even be HIV-related). Although there was some adjustment performed it is not clear what role pre-treatment CD4 cell count played. The median entry CD4 cell count in this study was well over 600/mm3, but there was a range at baseline and a count of 525/mm3 is not the same as 925/mm3. Other factors could also contribute to having higher levels of these markers such as duration of HIV infection and an assortment of co-morbid conditions. The important message from this analysis is less that relative elevation of these markers predicted poor outcomes, and more that we need to figure out why they were elevated.


Protease Inhibitor Pluses and Minuses

The D:A:D Cohort Study first reported an association between protease inhibitor-containing antiretroviral therapy (ART) and CVD well over a decade ago. At the time, protease inhibitors were widely used to treat HIV infection, allowing for investigation of earlier drugs in this antiretroviral class for links to CVD incidence. As more patients have received darunavir and atazanavir, still the newest kids on the protease inhibitor block, they can now also be similarly scrutinized. In doing so, the D:A:D team found a significant but small association between darunavir and CVD (~59% increased risk for every 5 years of exposure) – on par with that seen with the older protease inhibitors (7). However, such an association was not seen with atazanavir. Interesting, the darunavir-CVD association did not seem to be explained by dyslipidemia. The study did not collect data on dosing and some of the darunavir-receiving patients could have been taking the higher twice daily dosing.

A clue as to why atazanavir may be an outlier when it comes to protease inhibitors and risk of CVD can be found in by separate study from the Veterans Aging Cohort Study (VACS), also presented at CROI. This analysis examined the relationship between total bilirubin levels in the blood and the risk of CVD, as determined by diagnosis codes, in tens of thousands of HIV-infected and -uninfected patients (8) (it is known that those with Gilbert’s Syndrome, a common genetic disorder in which unconjugated bilirubin levels are elevated, have a lower risk of CVD). A clear bilirubin-CVD risk relationship was seen with a decline in CVD (and heart failure and acute myocardial infarction) risk at total bilirubin levels above 0.6 mg/dL; this was the case for HIV-positive and -negative patients. There were too few CVD events among those on atazanavir to tease out whether this protease inhibitor was in any way protective. (from Jules: taking atazanavir increases bilirubin).

The Bottom Line: Fewer people living with HIV in the US are being treated with protease inhibitors now that once-a-day integrase inhibitors have popped on to the scene. Therefore, the impact of the D:A:D finding of an association between CVD and cumulative use of darunavir and the failure to find a similar link with exposure to atazanavir, is diminished compared to a few years ago. That said, some patients do need to be on protease inhibitors for one reason or another and these data may influence selection of their therapy. The observation that darunavir acts like older protease inhibitors is less surprising than the observation that atazanavir doesn’t. Although the D:A:D analysis did not find bilirubin to be explanatory, it is hard to ignore the inverse relationship between bilirubin and CVD seen in the VACS cohort and previously reported data from the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) and others demonstrating positive changes in inflammatory markers and carotid intimal thickness with atazanavir compared to darunavir. It is important to recognize that of the 35,711 patients included in the D:A:D analysis, only 1,157 (3.2%) had a CVD event over a median 7 years of follow-up. Reassuringly, the absolute number of patients on darunavir who experienced a CVD event was low, especially among those on the drug longer term (18 patients with 5-6 years of exposure and 27 patients with >6 years of exposure). Therefore, very, very few people on the protease inhibitor experienced CVD.


Certainly, these findings may tip the balance a smidge back in favor of atazanavir but there remain important differences between these two effective protease inhibitors, including side effect profiles and drug-drug interactions, that will likely lead to little change in provider (and guideline) preferences. As described above, more cardiovascular protective juice can be had from a different sort of squeeze.


Not every co-morbidity that strikes those living with HIV infection can be prevented or reversed with good primary care. Brains, kidneys, and arteries damaged by the long-term immunosuppression of CD4 cell count depletion, cannot always be fixed. However, the preponderance of data point out where gains can be made.

HIV medicine has transitioned from an oncological mode created to manage a progressive and complicated fatal disease to a model that more closely resembles a diabetes clinic, where lab metrics are used to plot a long-term course that avoids complications. For our patients to not only survive but thrive we need a new way to support them that recognizes their outsized risk for physical and psychological co-morbidities and the entrenched toxic social and emotional challenges that feed these conditions and, also, make addressing them difficult. The next leap forward in HIV management could be the development of a comprehensive approach to co-morbidity detection and intervention – one that can be readily implemented across HIV clinics, be they in Birmingham or Boston. Designing and implementing such a program, with input from experts in prevention and geriatric medicine, can be yet another example of HIV care leading the way.

Source: http://www.natap.org/2017/CROI/croi_128.htm

Briefing at Congress: The Changing Face of HIV/AIDS in America

 The Changing Face of HIV/ AIDS in America
September 18, 2013 
Briefing: 9:30-10:30 a.m.
Reception: 10:30-11 :30 a.m.
US Congress Capitol Visitors Center, Room
SVC 212
Hosted by:
AIDS Community Research
Initiative of America (ACRIA) 
Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) 
National Hispanic Council on Aging
Human Rights Campaign
Gay Men’s Health Crisis
Michael Adams, Executive
Director, SAGE
Henry Pacheco, MD, Director of
Medicine and Public Health, National Hispanic Council on Aging 
Lisa Fitzpatrick, MD, Medical
Director, Infectious Diseases Care Center, United Medical Center 
Nelson Vergel, Director,
Program for Wellhess Restoration
Courtney Williams, Community Planner, DC Office on Aging
This was my speech as the only self reported patient aging with HIV:
Thank you for this opportunity to
present a testimony on behalf of thousands of my peers who are aging with HIV.
My name is Nelson Vergel. I am the
founder of Program for Wellness Restoration, a national peer driven and
operated non-profit organization based in Houston whose mission is to improve
health resilience and self-advocacy of people living and aging with HIV via wellness programs, national lectures and online education. 
Despite my seemingly healthy appearance, I find myself at 54 years of
age having lived with HIV for almost 30 years. I have spent most of that time
trying to successfully control my virus despite having built up a lot of
multidrug resistance.  In fact, my HIV
virus has reached undetectable blood levels only 3 years ago thanks to the use
of investigational medications yet to be approved by the FDA.
 I’m also currently undergoing chemotherapy for
aggressive B cell lymphoma, one of the most common cancers in people aging with
HIV. I am actually glad to be here not only because of the importance of this
issue but also because I was able to convince my oncologist to give me a week
off chemotherapy to come to speak in front of you.
 I never thought that I would survive to grow
old.  Like most long term survivors, I am
living proof of the great success of federal investment in research and treatment
of HIV.  In fact, this success is one of
the reasons that by the year 2015 more than 50 % of people living with HIV will
be over the age of 50. In several US cities that is already the case.
In my national travels lecturing
during the past 20 years I have seen a shift from fear of death to fear of
disability while we age with HIV.  Most
aging HIV+ people that I come in contact with are dealing with health issues
earlier than the general aging population. 
Some people have developed lipodystrophy related body disfigurement,
extreme fatigue, neuropathy pain, frailty and other health issues that have
made it impossible for them to hold a full time job.  These circumstances have pushed many into
permanent disability with small incomes that put them under the poverty
levels.  Others who are doing better want
to go back to work and regain their productive place in society and to apply skills
they have learned before they went on disability. Unfortunately, funding cuts
have left very few support and case management programs to help people aging
with HIV to remain productive and relevant while preserving full independence.
Most HIV+ people do not know how to navigate the few programs that may be out
Clinical studies and our own community
surveys presented in HIV conferences show that many of the survivors of the
first two decades of this epidemic are experiencing premature bone loss and
metabolic problems, body changes, frailty, cardiovascular disease, cancers, and
cognitive dysfunction. In fact, some studies show an acceleration of 15 years
in our aging process compared to people who are not HIV-infected.  Much of that acceleration has been linked to
toxicities and increased inflammation even in people with undetectable HIV viral
load.   This relatively early onset of issues provides
researchers an opportunity to study aging in an accelerated model compared to
traditional non-HIV studies.  It is also
worth emphasizing that HIV/aging research offers an opportunity to better
understand how infection-related wear and tear on the immune system contributes
to aging-related conditions among HIV-negative people. These studies could be
enrolled quickly as patients living with HIV are eagerly interested in
volunteering in interventional aging studies that could have benefits beyond
Due to federal investment, academic
and private innovation, we now have 8 first line regimens that can treat
someone newly infected with HIV. But for some people like me who have been
infected for many years, aging is arriving with fears of long term
survival.  As many of us volunteered for
clinical studies that helped get HIV drugs approved, our virus developed accumulated
multidrug resistance due to suboptimal regimens used in those studies. We still
need early access for combinations of new drugs with new HIV targets while we
eagerly wait for a cure. 
In my role as a community educator
and research activist, I am happy to see emerging studies related to aging with
HIV.  But most are observational in
nature. Your support of investment in interventional aging studies could
generate therapies that could not only help 32 million people living with HIV
but also the aging people in this room and around the world. That is why it is
important not only maintain, but increase funding for NIH-targeted research on
HIV and aging consistent with the priorities outlined by a report written by a
NIH-convened work group, on which ACRIA participated.
My community strongly urges
congress to fully support funding the Ryan White CARE Act (RW) to at least the level
requested by the President. RW is vital for many reasons, but notably the
median age for older adults with HIV is age 58, i.e., not yet eligible for
Medicare and other services funded through the Administration on Aging via
OAA-funded programs. Many, if not most, rely on RW funded programs for a host
of services, including RW’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program for their meds. And
with many states choosing not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act,
RW will remain vitally important as a key source of payment for necessary
services for this population.
Like everyone is this room, people
with HIV want to age healthy and to enjoy our improved survival.  We want our experiences with accelerated
aging to be used for the benefit of mankind.
Thank you 


AIDS Nelson Vergel, AIDS expert, talks HIV and healthy aging by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times


AIDS Nelson Vergel, AIDS expert, talks HIV and healthy agingby Kate Sosin, Windy City Times2011-06-08
Nelson Vergel and Jeff Berry from TPAN. Photo by Kate Sosin
Nelson Vergel is not what you think of when you say “AIDS over 50.”With hefty round muscles pushing out against a tight blue t-shirt and a lively demeanor, Vergel looks more like Mighty Mouse than a person resistant to nearly every HIV drug on the market. But Vergel is in the business of de-bunking myths about aging with HIV, and while his own HIV is a struggle, he’s also the living example of his work.
Vergel presented some of the latest findings on HIV and aging at Center on Halsted May 31, during his free talk, “Promising Advances in HIV Cure and Healthy Aging Research.” The event was sponsored by Test Positive Aware Network.
The Houston-based author and activist focused heavily on the scientific reasons why a cure to HIV/AIDS is both a distant dream and an impending reality. But while Vergel is following progress on possible cures, his own work focuses on informing other HIV-positive people on the changes HIV causes in the body and strategies for living well with the virus.
“We’re getting older. What is the quality of life going to be?” Vergel asked an audience of about 30 people.
According to Vergel, medication is just one of four useful in battling HIV. He also includes stress reduction, exercise, and nutrition.

In three years, he said, there will be four once-a-day HIV pills on the market (there is currently just one—Atripla). Still, HIV drug production is slowing because it’s less profitable than other drugs.
“We’re moving into a new world,” Vergel said. He expects that some HIV patients will be asked to go off their medications in time so that new possible cures can be tested.
That possible cure might include one found four years ago in an American living in Germany. The famous “Berlin Patient” may have been cured of his HIV when he received a bone marrow transplant from a donor whose genetic mutations made him resistant to HIV. Research on that method is ongoing, Vergel said, but it’s also still very risky and not enough information is available to make it a viable option yet.
In the meantime, Vergel recommends nutrition and exercise. Because people living with HIV are at heightened risk of osteoporosis, HPV, and other illnesses, Vergel said it is especially important to remain vigilant about getting screened for other illnesses, especially HPV.
“We’re not talking about bottoms or tops or women or men,” Vergel said. “[HPV] is affecting everyone.”
Medicine aside, exercise is the best medicine, said Vergel. “We [HIV-positive people] have an acceleration of the aging process by about 15 years,” Vergel said. “Frailty in aging is most related to body strength.”
Vergel suggests leg squats for preventing frailty. He also said a healthy combination of cardio and muscle resistance can slow the aging process.
New research has also shown merits of some vitamins in relieving some HIV symptoms. D vitamins can help maintain bone strength, while B vitamins can help relieve depression. Vergel warned, however, that patients talk to their doctors about vitamins as some can interact with HIV medications.
Vergel doesn’t stop at health, however. His talk also included strategies for fighting changes in body fat and fat under the skin (also known as lipohypertrophy and lipoatrophy) because Vergel said, “it’s not about getting older. It’s about getting your healthy look back as you age.”
Vergel thinks that a lot of doctors are reluctant to offer facial treatments to HIV patients who lose fat under facial skin because they see it as unnecessary, but he said that changes to body weight prevent some people from going on medication at all. However, a number of treatments exist for preventing weight changes while on HIV medication.
Finally, Vergel discussed testosterone treatments, which he has covered in his latest book Testosterone: A Man’s Guide. Testosterone is often taken by HIV-positive patients to combat fatigue, lack of motivation, poor appetite, and muscle loss. Vergel warns that these should be taken with caution because they can fuel cancer.
Before making any decisions, he said, talk to your doctor. But do your own homework, too, he said because not every doctor will cover all the bases on HIV management.
“The thing is, we don’t have standards,” he said. “We don’t have guidelines.”
Information on Vergel’s work as well as his complete slideshow presentation is available on his website:www.powerusa.org .