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N Engl J Med. 2008 Nov 20;359(21):2233-44. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa0800971.

Early antiretroviral therapy and mortality among HIV-infected infants.

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  • 1Perinatal HIV Research Unit, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.



In countries with a high seroprevalence of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1), HIV infection contributes significantly to infant mortality. We investigated antiretroviral-treatment strategies in the Children with HIV Early Antiretroviral Therapy (CHER) trial.


HIV-infected infants 6 to 12 weeks of age with a CD4 lymphocyte percentage (the CD4 percentage) of 25% or more were randomly assigned to receive antiretroviral therapy (lopinavir-ritonavir, zidovudine, and lamivudine) when the CD4 percentage decreased to less than 20% (or 25% if the child was younger than 1 year) or clinical criteria were met (the deferred antiretroviral-therapy group) or to immediate initiation of limited antiretroviral therapy until 1 year of age or 2 years of age (the early antiretroviral-therapy groups). We report the early outcomes for infants who received deferred antiretroviral therapy as compared with early antiretroviral therapy.


At a median age of 7.4 weeks (interquartile range, 6.6 to 8.9) and a CD4 percentage of 35.2% (interquartile range, 29.1 to 41.2), 125 infants were randomly assigned to receive deferred therapy, and 252 infants were randomly assigned to receive early therapy. After a median follow-up of 40 weeks (interquartile range, 24 to 58), antiretroviral therapy was initiated in 66% of infants in the deferred-therapy group. Twenty infants in the deferred-therapy group (16%) died versus 10 infants in the early-therapy groups (4%) (hazard ratio for death, 0.24; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.11 to 0.51; P<0.001). In 32 infants in the deferred-therapy group (26%) versus 16 infants in the early-therapy groups (6%), disease progressed to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stage C or severe stage B (hazard ratio for disease progression, 0.25; 95% CI, 0.15 to 0.41; P<0.001). Stavudine was substituted for zidovudine in four infants in the early-therapy groups because of neutropenia in three infants and anemia in one infant; no drugs were permanently discontinued. After a review by the data and safety monitoring board, the deferred-therapy group was modified, and infants in this group were all reassessed for initiation of antiretroviral therapy.


Early HIV diagnosis and early antiretroviral therapy reduced early infant mortality by 76% and HIV progression by 75%. ( number, NCT00102960.)

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