Smoking may take years off lives of HIV patients, study shows

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HIV treatments are so effective today that people who are diagnosed and treated early can expect a near-normal lifespan. A new study however finds that won't be the case if the patient is a smoker.

The study, published Dec. 19 in Clinical Infectious Diseases, suggests programs to encourage patients to quit smoking should be integrated in HIV care, according to its authors.

"Our findings emphasize the importance of counseling HIV patients on smoking cessation as smoking may impact their life expectancy considerably more than the HIV infection itself," wrote the authors, led by Dr. Marie Helleberg, an infectious disease researcher at Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark.

Helleberg and her colleagues tracked nearly 3,000 people with HIV who received treatment in Denmark between 1995 and 2010. In Denmark, HIV care is covered by the government and antiretroviral therapy is free, so the researchers wanted to look at death rates among an HIV population to see what risk factors contributed.

They found more than 60 percent of HIV deaths were associated with smoking, rather than HIV.

For example, the research found a 35-year-old with HIV who smokes had a life expectancy of 62.6 years, compared to 78.4 years for a non-smoker infected with the virus. Overall, they found mortality of HIV-infected smokers to be three times higher than a population of those who aren't infected with HIV.

Cardiovascular disease and cancer were potential causes of death.

"The results also underscore the importance of prioritizing interventions for stopping smoking in HIV patient care and for the general population," the researchers wrote.

Smokers in general are about two to four times more likely to have heart disease and stroke, and between 13 and 23 times (for women, men respectively) more likely to develop lung cancer. More deaths are caused each year from smoking than all deaths from HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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