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UMD-led Research Examines Alcohol Use in Early Stages of HIV Treatment

By Maryland Today Staff

A UMD-led study that monitored patients beginning HIV treatment in sub-Saharan Africa found high rates of unhealthy alcohol use in nearly a third of the participants—pointing, the researchers say, to the need for alcohol use intervention to be integrated into HIV care, especially as access to treatments expands globally.

As international guidelines have shifted for when to start people on HIV treatment, researchers investigated whether alcohol use could impede the effects of antiretroviral therapy (ART) for patients in the early stages of the disease.

Previously, ART was given only to HIV patients with lower immune functioning, but recent universal access initiatives may put an additional 23 million people with HIV into treatment while they are still relatively healthy.

“Unhealthy alcohol use is a known risk factor for contracting HIV, but also a barrier for successful treatment outcomes,” said Jessica Magidson, an assistant professor of psychology, who led the research, published in AIDS and Behavior. “We surmised that for people starting HIV treatment in earlier phases—when they are largely asymptomatic and feel healthier—alcohol use might be more of an issue. What we found was a high rate of unhealthy alcohol use regardless of disease stage.”

Magidson and a team of researchers from the University of California San Francisco, Harvard Medical School, as well as universities in South Africa and Uganda, used a biomarker to evaluate alcohol use among 401 patients in South Africa and Uganda beginning HIV treatment at different disease stages. The specific biomarker utilized in the study is detectable within two to three weeks of alcohol consumption.

The study was funded by the Gates Foundation and the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

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