Brain and Body

For HIV Patients, Smoking May Be More Lethal Than the Virus Itself

November 4, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

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Smoking reduced the life expectancy of people with HIV, who take medications, by about twice as much as HIV itself.

According to a new study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, smoking cigarettes may now shorten the lifespan of those living with HIV more than the virus itself.

"Now that HIV-specific medicines are so effective against the virus itself, we also need to add other interventions that could improve and extend the lives of people with HIV," study author Krishna P. Reddy said in a press release.

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Scientists from Harvard University and Massachussets General Hospital used a computer simulation of the HIV virus and treatment to predict the life expectancy of HIV-infected patients, based on their smoking status. The study also accounted for other potential factors, like not adhering to HIV medication regimens.

The results showed that smokers with HIV who consistently take HIV medicines are much more likely to die from a smoking-related disease than from the virus itself — about twice as likely, compared to nonsmokers who adhere to their medicine regimens.

"It is well-known that smoking is bad for health, but we demonstrate in this study just how bad it is," Dr. Reddy said.

In fact, men and women who entered care for HIV at the age of 40, but continued to smoke, lost 6.7 and 6.3 years of life expectancy, respectively, compared to those who never smoked.

However, there’s a silver lining: men and women who quit smoking at 40-years-old regained 5.7 and 4.6 years of life expectancy, respectively. Even those who didn’t quit smoking until age 60 saw a significant boost in life expectancy, Reddy says, so “it's never too late to quit."

Keeping in mind that smoking rates are more than twice as high among HIV-infected adults compared to the general US population, this study stresses the importance of prioritizing smoking cessation among people with HIV in order to help lengthen their lifespans.

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