People with HIV have 21-year reduction in life expectancy in US

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Despite dramatic increases in life expectancy in the decade since the introduction of combination therapy, Americans diagnosed with HIV are still dying an average of 21 years younger than their HIV-negative peers, report researchers from the Centers of Disease Prevention and Control in the online edition of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.

Although women’s life expectancy is longer than men’s, it has not improved as much as men’s, and the situation of black and Hispanic men is significantly worse than that of white men.

A number of cohort studies have already provided strong evidence of important declines in the risk of death amongst people with HIV in developed countries since combination therapy became available. Moreover, attention has often been drawn to the long life expectancy of some groups of people with HIV, especially those diagnosed at a young age.


anonymised data

Information about a patient from which the name, address and other identifying information has been removed.


Studies aim to give information that will be applicable to a large group of people (e.g. adults with diagnosed HIV in the UK). Because it is impractical to conduct a study with such a large group, only a sub-group (a sample) takes part in a study. This isn’t a problem as long as the characteristics of the sample are similar to those of the wider group (e.g. in terms of age, gender, CD4 count and years since diagnosis).


The prospect of survival and/or recovery from a disease as anticipated from the usual course of that disease or indicated by the characteristics of the patient.

combination therapy

A therapy composed of several drugs available either as separate tablets, or as fixed-dose combination (FDC).


A doctor, nurse or other healthcare professional who is active in looking after patients.

However studies have also continued to find poorer outcomes than among HIV-negative people. One study of over 43,000 patients in 14 cohorts found that whilst a 20 year old starting treatment could expect to live to be 63, this life expectancy was only two-thirds of that in the general population.

Another study, this time based on over 16,000 people in 23 European cohorts, found that whilst mortality rates were similar to the general population in the first five years after diagnosis, an increased risk of death became apparent with longer-term infection.

Studies have also identified groups of people with HIV who tend to have a poorer prognosis, including injecting drug users, older people, those co-infected with hepatitis C, and people whose CD4 cell count is low when starting treatment.

The new study is based on routine anonymised data collected on people newly diagnosed with HIV. Other studies have used data on people with HIV who are accessing treatment or care, which may somewhat over-estimate life expectancy.

Data was provided by 25 of 50 states, representing approximately a quarter of Americans living with HIV. Some key states such as New York and California are not included, and Hispanic people are under-represented in the sample. Diagnoses between 1996 and 2005 were included, with follow-up until 2007.

Over 22,000 people were included in the study, of whom 10,366 died.

Life expectancy

On average, life expectancy after diagnosis increased from 10.5 years in 1996 to 22.5 years in 2005. HIV-positive women, overall, had a longer life expectancy than men (23.6 years for women in 2005, compared to 21.8 years for men).

Among men, the greatest improvements in life expectancy were experienced by white men. Black men diagnosed in 2005 could expect to live for five years less than their white counterparts.


1996 life expectancy

2005 life expectancy

White men

10.3 years

25.5 years

Black men

9.5 years

19.9 years

Hispanic men

10.1 years

22.6 years

Because there are fewer women in the sample, the estimates for life expectancy for women of a particular ethnicity diagnosed in a single year are not particularly accurate. The researchers therefore provide pooled figures for the years 2001 to 2005. These show that black women have a shorter life expectancy than other groups, with the greatest improvements in life expectancy being experienced by Hispanic women.

However the authors note that the most important improvements in life expectancy took place in the first five years of the study, and increases have slowed since then.


1996 life expectancy

2001-2005 life expectancy

White women

12.8 years

22.1 years

Black women

12.5 years

20.6 years

Hispanic women

11.2 years

24.2 years

Life-expectancy was longer for gay and bisexual men (28.3 years in 2005) than for other men. Injecting drug users had the shortest life expectancy (15.2 years for men, and 15.9 years for women in 2005).

Average years of life lost

The authors also calculated how many years a person’s life is shortened, in comparison with a person of the same age, sex and ethnicity in the general population.

In interpreting these figures, it is important to note that there may be higher rates of substance use, hepatitis C co-infection and socio-economic problems in people with HIV than in the general population. These factors will also contribute to the lower life expectancy.

Moreover, the particular nature of the healthcare system in the United States may mean that different results would be seen in other developed countries.

Comparing the life expectancy of people diagnosed with HIV in 2005 with that in the general population, it was 21.1 years shorter.

Men could expect to die an average of 19.1 years before their HIV-negative peers, but this figure varies by age. A man diagnosed aged 20 would die 25 years early, a 40-year old 18 years early and a 60-year old 10 years early.

HIV-positive women’s life expectancy was an average 22.7 years less than in the general population, with more variation according to age. A woman diagnosed aged 20 would die 31 years early, a 40-year old 21 years early and a 60-year old 11 years early.

The greatest number of years lost was seen in Hispanic people, followed by blacks and whites. The authors note that other data show that Hispanics have high rates of discontinuation of treatment and of late presentation to care, which may account for premature deaths.


The authors believe that as well as being useful for policy makers, “these results can guide clinician communication with patients about their life expectancies after HIV diagnosis”.

They sum up the picture presented by the data: “Although life expectancy and average years of life lost have significantly improved for persons diagnosed from 1996 to 2005 in 25 states, life expectancy remains shorter than for the general population and sex and race/ethnic disparities persist.”


Harrison KM et al.Life expectancy after HIV diagnosis based on national surveillance data from 25 states, United States. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr, published online ahead of print, 2009. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0b013e3181b563e7.