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Superior virologic and treatment outcomes when viral load is measured at 3 months compared to 6 months on antiretroviral therapy

Bernhard Kerschberger, Andrew M Boulle, Katharina Kranzer, Katherine Hilberbrand, Michael Schomaker, David Coetzee, Eric Goemaere, Gilles Van Cutsem


Introduction: Routine viral load (VL) monitoring is utilized to assess antiretroviral therapy (ART) adherence and virologic failure, and it is currently scaled-up in many resource-constrained settings. The first routine VL is recommended as late as six months after ART initiation for early detection of sub-optimal adherence. We aimed to assess the optimal timing of first VL measurement after initiation of ART.

Methods: This was a retrospective, cohort analysis of routine monitoring data of adults enrolled at three primary care clinics in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, between January 2002 and March 2009. Primary outcomes were virologic failure and switch to second-line ART comparing patients in whom first VL done was at three months (VL3M) and six months (VL6M) after ART initiation. Adjusted hazard ratios (aHR) were estimated using Cox proportional hazard models.

Results: In total, 6264 patients were included for the time to virologic failure and 6269 for the time to switch to second-line ART analysis. Patients in the VL3M group had a 22% risk reduction of virologic failure (aHR 0.78, 95% CI 0.64–0.95; p=0.016) and a 27% risk reduction of switch to second-line ART (aHR 0.73, 95% CI 0.58–0.92; p=0.008) when compared to patients in the VL6M group. For each additional month of delay of the first VL measurement (up to nine months), the risk of virologic failure increased by 9% (aHR 1.09, 95% CI 1.02–1.15; p=0.008) and switch to second-line ART by 13% (aHR 1.13, 95% CI 1.05–1.21; p<0.001).

Conclusions: A first VL at three months rather than six months with targeted adherence interventions for patients with high VL may improve long-term virologic suppression and reduce switches to costly second-line ART. ART programmes should consider the first VL measurement at three months after ART initiation.

Keywords: viral load; HIV; treatment switching; virologic failure.

Published 23 September 2015

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Citation: Kerschberger B et al. Journal of the International AIDS Society 2015, 18:20092 |

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