Researchers have hit on what may be an inexpensive way to prevent death from infections in children with HIV until anti-retroviral drugs become affordable in the developing world. In an article published in the Lancet, investigators report how they slashed the death rate of children infected with AIDS by nearly half using a common, cheap antibiotic drug.
The 20-month study involved more than 500 HIV-infected children between the ages of one and 14 in Zambia. In an effort to prevent life-threatening infections in immune-compromised children, investigators gave daily doses of the inexpensive and widely available drug, co-trimoxazole, to half the children. The rest received a placebo or sugar pill.
When the initial results showed that the antibiotic reduced the death rate by 42 percent, the study was stopped and all the children were put on co-trimoxazole therapy.
Co-infections in people with AIDS , such as tuberculosis, are a main cause of death. The benefit of co-trimoxazole taken preventatively is that it keeps such infections in check, even though bacteria have become resistant to the drug. The study author is Diana Gibb of England's Medical Research Council.
"We're not talking about this drug actually having a direct affect on the HIV itself. It's having an effect on what we think is the bacterial infections there, despite in the test tube, if you like, where there's evidence of resistance," she said.
Dr. Gibb notes that co-trimoxazole stacks up well against anti-retroviral drugs, in reducing the death rate from HIV. Until anti-AIDS drugs become widely available in poor countries, Dr. Gibb says, the antibiotic can be very useful. "It's not in that sort of order, but it's still a very good start. And it's a good reason for testing children, getting them into follow-up, giving them nutritional help and co-trimoxazole which is cheap," she said.
Dr. Gibb believes that co-trimoxazole should be given to all HIV-infected individuals, no matter how old they are or how sick, to prevent life-threatening infections.