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Special Communication
June 24, 1998

Public Health Implications of Antiretroviral Therapy and HIV Drug Resistance

Author Affiliations

From the McGill University AIDS Centre, Jewish General Hospital, Montreal, Quebec (Dr Wainberg), and the AIDS Program, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn (Dr Friedland).

JAMA. 1998;279(24):1977-1983. doi:10.1001/jama.279.24.1977

Widespread use of antiretroviral agents and increasing occurrence of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) strains resistant to these drugs have given rise to a number of important issues. Some of these concerns are distinct from the obvious question of the relationship between drug resistance and treatment failure and have potentially widespread public health implications. The relevant issues include but are not limited to the following:(1) frequency with which drug-resistant virus may be transmitted via sexual, intravenous, or mother-to-child routes; (2) ability of drug-resistant variants to be transmitted, a question that relates, in part, to the relative fitness of such strains; (3) effectiveness of antiviral therapy in diminishing viral burden in both blood and genital secretions, and whether this may be compromised in persons harboring resistant virus; and (4) importance of patient adherence to antiviral therapy and its relationship to sustained reduction in viral load to minimize the appearance in and transmission of drug-resistant virus from both blood and genital secretions. Thus, prevention of both development of HIV drug resistance as well as transmission of drug-resistant variants is a central issue of public health importance. Unless this topic is appropriately addressed, the likelihood is that drug-resistant variants of HIV, if able to successfully replicate, will sustain the epidemic and limit the effectiveness of antiviral therapy.