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Living longer, ageing sooner

People with HIV in their 50s and 60s are developing age-related conditions — such as heart, liver and kidney disease, as well as certain cancers — at a rate higher than negative people of a similar age.

“After we started successful therapy that suppressed the virus and extended lives, we began to notice that people were getting diseases associated with ageing sooner than their chronological age would indicate they should be getting them,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

The people particularly affected are those diagnosed pre-’96 — prior to the arrival of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Without antiretroviral drugs, HIV causes the body to be under constant immune activation. “With most infectious invaders, the immune system responds and then is supposed to rest, like a fire engine waiting to come out when there is a fire to be fought,” said Carl Dieffenbach, also of the NIAID. “With HIV, those firetrucks keep driving around for fires, even when there are none.” Many researchers believe it is this high-level of immune activity that is the underlying cause behind the accelerated rate of age-related conditions.

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