A collaboration of researchers is studying a comprehensive dataset of over 8,000 people on antiretroviral HIV therapies to assess how Canada is dealing with the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
A Canadian living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is most likely to achieve "viral suppression" if they are male, reside in Ontario and have no history of injecting drugs, according to findings drawn from the largest databank of national HIV patient information ever collected.
Achieving viral suppression – reaching and maintaining the point at which the virus is under control – is crucial for two reasons: it prevents an HIV-positive person from progressing to AIDS, and it helps stop the spread of HIV.
"By suppressing someone's viral load, they are much less likely to become ill with HIV," says Dr. Curtis Cooper, a University of Ottawa researcher and a regional director of the Canadian Observational Cohort (CANOC). "On a public health basis, it protects the population because the risk of transmitting HIV with a fully suppressed viral load is minuscule. I would not say you cannot transmit it, but it reduces the risk of transmission multifold."
CANOC has collected data from over 8,000 patients in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec who are receiving highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), the standard of care for HIV infection. In a study published last year in the British journal HIV Medicine, CANOC's researchers reported that the median time for a Canadian HIV patient to reach viral suppression is 4.5 months.
"If you look at the clinical trials, it usually takes between two and four months to fully suppress people on therapy," says Dr. Cooper, "so that would suggest we – patients and health care providers – are doing a pretty good job."