Today’s powerful antiretroviral therapy (ART) helps fight back HIV infection and restore normal immune function. However, clinical evidence suggests that people with HIV who are virologically suppressed still have higher rates of comorbid viral infections than the general population.
Now, a new study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases suggests that ART does not restore the immune system completely back to normal. Instead, people with HIV may experience “immune amnesia,” in which the immune system slowly loses its capacity to recognize and fight off viral infections introduced during childhood or through a vaccine.
“Even with therapy, there’s something not quite fixed about the immune system,” said lead author Michael Augenbraun, M.D., FACP, FIDSA, who is vice chair of the Department of Medicine and director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University and Kings County Hospital Center.
In the study, Augenbraun and his colleagues compared immune response among a group of 50 HIV-negative women and a group of 50 HIV-positive women on ART with low viral load. Each of these women had been vaccinated against smallpox during childhood, so they should all theoretically have similar levels of lingering protection against the smallpox virus.