Objective: To examine the effect of acyclovir use on disease progression and survival in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-seropositive persons treated with zidovudine.
Setting: Four university-based or -affiliated clinics.
Design: Prospective cohort study of homosexual and bisexual men with semi-annual follow-up. Intent-to-treat Cox models were fit to determine the relation between the use of acyclovir (modeled as a time-dependent covariate) and disease progression, controlling for baseline and time-dependent clinical and laboratory prognostic variables. The acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)-free duration and survival time were calculated from the first use of zidovudine. Analysis included study visits 7 to 17 (from 1987 to 1992).
Patients: 786 HIV-seropositive participants in the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study who began zidovudine therapy before a clinical diagnosis of AIDS; of these, 515 subsequently received acyclovir. Participants were asked at each visit whether they had “used any medication for health reasons not related to AIDS or if they had taken any medication to help fight AIDS or the HIV virus”; 488 patients indicated acyclovir use under either or both questions, and 242 patients indicated only the latter use.
Results: The use of acyclovir for any indication was not associated with an effect on progression to AIDS but was associated with a 26% decrease in the risk for death (relative hazard, 0.74; P = 0.07). The use of acyclovir for HIV infection was also not associated with an effect on progression to AIDS but was associated with a 36% decrease in the risk for death (relative hazard, 0.64; P = 0.01). To further investigate these findings, we examined dose, constancy, and timing of acyclovir use. The median daily dose of acyclovir used for HIV infection was between 600 and 800 mg. No apparent dose effect on survival was found. Longer uninterrupted use of acyclovir for any indication was associated with an 18% decrease in the risk for death for three or more consecutive visits (relative hazard, 0.82; P = 0.23), a 28% decrease for four or more consecutive visits (relative hazard, 0.72; P = 0.09), and a 7% decrease per visit based on the cumulative number of visits while the patient received acyclovir (relative hazard, 0.93 per visit increase; P = 0.03). Use of acyclovir for any indication and use of acyclovir for HIV infection were each associated with a 44% decreased probability of death if the drug was used after AIDS developed (P = 0.007 and P = 0.005, respectively) but not before. To further investigate the prolongation of survival, two landmark analyses were done. The first analysis began at a landmark of 1 year after initiation of zidovudine therapy and compared three groups of patients: those who used acyclovir at or before this landmark, those who had never started acyclovir or started the drug after the landmark, and those who had never used acyclovir. The 90% survival times were 1325, 1059, and 982 days, respectively. The second analysis began at a landmark of developing either a CD4 count less than 50 cells/µL or clinical AIDS. The 90% survival times for the three groups were 398, 261, and 176 days, respectively.
Conclusions: Our analysis suggests that consistent use of acyclovir at a dose sufficient to suppress herpetic recurrences (that is, 600 to 800 mg/d) has a clinically significant effect on prolonging survival in a well-characterized cohort with extensive previous exposure to herpesvirus infections. Further clinical investigation of low-dose acyclovir with concomitant antiretroviral therapy is warranted.