Clinical and immunological aspects of HIV infection in drug addicts

Clinic of Infectious Disease, Institute of Internal Medicine, Infectious Disease and Immunopathology, University of Milan, Milan 20157, Italy
Clinical Immunology and Immunopathology 02/1989; 50(1). DOI: 10.1016/0090-1229(89)90124-4


Intravenous drug users (IVDUs) account for more than 64% of the total AIDS cases in Italy. The IVDUs' seropositivity rate is >70% in Milan and >50% in the main cities of Italy. The first evidence of seropositivity in this population dates back to 1979. In a cohort study performed in Milan the rate of progression to overt AIDS among IVDUs was 6% in 3 years (1984–1987). At presentation, more than 75% of the subjects had CD4+ cell counts higher than 400/mm3 (mean 631, median 528, mode 465). These values are significantly higher than those observed in the same population in New York, the only American city with HIV-infection spread comparable to that observed in Milan. The probability of having CD4+ cell counts lower than 400, 300, and 200/mm3 in relation to the length of follow-up was, respectively, 50, 40, and 2% after 36 months from presentation. At the same end point, subjects presenting less than 400 CD4+ cells at entry had 30% probability of falling under 200 cell/mm3. The pattern of CD4+ cells, as much as the low percentage of yearly progression to overt AIDS, is probably related to the recent, even if rapid, spread of infection among IVDUs in Italy. The clinical features of overt AIDS present some differences between IVDUs and other at-risk groups. Among U.S. IVDUs with AIDS, Kaposi's sarcoma is infrequent (2.9% vs 27.7% in homosexual men) while mycotic infections such as deep candidiasis and cryptococcosis are significantly more frequent. The same pattern has been observed in our case file in Milan: esophageal candidiasis represents the most frequent cause of diagnosis of overt AIDS. Mycotic infections, overall, are more frequent than in U.S. IVDUs. The increased rate of mycotic infections among IVDUs might be justified by altered functions of nonspecific immunity, such as PMNL killing and phagocytosis of Candida albicans spores, impaired in HIV-infected IVDUs, but generally normal in infected subjects belonging to the other at-risk groups.

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