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Research paper
HIV and lower risk of multiple sclerosis: beginning to unravel a mystery using a record-linked database study
  1. Julian Gold1,2,
  2. Raph Goldacre3,
  3. Hubert Maruszak1,2,
  4. Gavin Giovannoni2,
  5. David Yeates3,
  6. Michael Goldacre3
  1. 1The Albion Centre, Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  2. 2Centre for Neuroscience and Trauma, The Blizard Institute of Cell and Molecular Science, Queen Mary University of London, London, UK
  3. 3Unit of Health-Care Epidemiology, Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr J Gold, The Albion Centre, Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney, NSW 2029, Australia; julian.gold{at}sesiahs.health.nsw.gov.au

Abstract

Objectives Even though multiple sclerosis (MS) and HIV infection are well-documented conditions in clinical medicine, there is only a single case report of a patient with MS and HIV treated with HIV antiretroviral therapies. In this report, the patient's MS symptoms resolved completely after starting combination antiretroviral therapy and remain subsided for more than 12 years. Authors hypothesised that because the pathogenesis of MS has been linked to human endogenous retroviruses, antiretroviral therapy for HIV may be coincidentally treating or preventing progression of MS. This led researchers from Denmark to conduct an epidemiological study on the incidence of MS in a newly diagnosed HIV population (5018 HIV cases compared with 50 149 controls followed for 31 875 and 393 871 person-years, respectively). The incidence rate ratio for an HIV patient acquiring MS was low at 0.3 (95% CI 0.04 to 2.20) but did not reach statistical significance possibly due to the relatively small numbers in both groups. Our study was designed to further investigate the possible association between HIV and MS.

Methods We conducted a comparative cohort study accessing one of the world’s largest linked medical data sets with a cohort of 21 207 HIV-positive patients and 5 298 496 controls stratified by age, sex, year of first hospital admission, region of residence and socioeconomic status and ‘followed up’ by record linkage.

Results Overall, the rate ratio of developing MS in people with HIV, relative to those without HIV, was 0.38 (95% CI 0.15 to 0.79).

Conclusions HIV infection is associated with a significantly decreased risk of developing MS. Mechanisms of this observed possibly protective association may include immunosuppression induced by chronic HIV infection and antiretroviral medications.

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