BACKGROUND - Zidovudine has been shown to prolong survival in patients with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and, in persons with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection but not AIDS, to delay the progression to AIDS. However, it is still uncertain whether treatment before the development of AIDS prolongs survival.
METHODS - We analyzed data from a cohort of 2162 high-risk men who were already seropositive for HIV type 1 (HIV-1) and 406 men who seroconverted from October 1986 through April 1991. There were 306 deaths. The probabilities of death were compared among men at similar stages of disease who began zidovudine therapy before the diagnosis of AIDS and among those who did not. Relative risks of death were calculated for each of five initial disease states on the basis of CD4+ cell counts and clinical symptoms and signs appearing over follow-up periods of 6, 12, 18, and 24 months. Adjustments were also made for the use of prophylaxis against Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP).
RESULTS - After we controlled for CD4+ cell count and symptoms, the use of zidovudine with or without PCP prophylaxis before the development of AIDS significantly reduced mortality in all follow-up periods. The relative risks of death were 0.43 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.23 to 0.78) at 6 months, 0.54 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.38 to 0.78) at 12 months, 0.59 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.44 to 0.79) at 18 months, and 0.67 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.52 to 0.86) at 24 months. After we adjusted for the effects of PCP prophylaxis, zidovudine alone significantly reduced mortality at 6, 12, and 18 months (relative risks, 0.45, 0.59, and 0.70, respectively), but not at 24 months (relative risk, 0.81). Among zidovudine users, those who also used PCP prophylaxis before the development of AIDS had significantly lower mortality at 18 and 24 months than those who did not (relative risks, 0.62 and 0.60, respectively).
CONCLUSIONS - The results of this study support the hypothesis that in HIV-1 infection, early treatment with zidovudine and PCP prophylaxis improves survival in addition to slowing the progression to AIDS.