Those who think medical science has won the battle against AIDS have declared victory too soon. Recent evidence indicates, as some had feared, that the new "drug cocktails" introduced last year to fight the virus are losing their effectiveness.
Data just released by doctors at San Francisco General Hospital and University of California San Francisco Medical Center show that treatment is starting to fail in more than half the HIV patients on the new protease inhibitors.
After starting on the treatment in March 1996, patients' virus levels dropped, in many cases to undetectable amounts. Some patients whose disease-fighting T-cells had been reduced to life-threatening lows had been able to get out of bed and resume daily tasks.
Since then, the AIDS virus is making a comeback in 53% of 136 HIV-infected patients who began treatment with a combination of drugs including either Crixivan or Norvil, two new protease inhibitors.
The data reported by Steven Deeks, M.D., from the San Francisco hospitals are supported by similar data from other large AIDS clinics.
"The epidemic will most likely split in two," Deeks said. "For half the people, we will need new therapeutic options."
These findings may not be as devastating as it seems. "All of our `failures' are clinically feeling very well," Deeks said. But no one knows the long-term significance of the relapses.
From the start of the combination treatment, some doctors worried that the AIDS virus might become resistant to the protease inhibitors, said David Ho, M.D., of Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York. Still, he said, it's possible treatment failed because patients didn't take their medications according to the prescribed regimen, with which it is often hard for patients to comply.
-With Associated Press