HIV Test
A nurse takes blood from a man who got a free HIV test on a bus in Tehran December 16, 2015. Reuters/Raheb Homavandi

The deadly HIV infection can be kept at bay using a combination of antiretroviral therapies. These therapies have led to a decrease in mortality rates in people having HIV. However, a new study has revealed that HIV-infected people age prematurely. Ageing prematurely drives the onset of various age-related diseases such as liver problems, cardiovascular problems, neuro-cognitive impairment and even Alzheimer’s.

According to the study, HIV infection advances human biological ageing process prematurely on an average by five years. The age-related problems that come with premature ageing increases mortality by 19 percent.

In a bid to analyse epigenetic changes in people's cells affecting DNA but not the sequence, researchers attached small chemical groups to DNA, a process known as methylation. DNA methylation may impact how genes get translated into proteins. DNA of two groups of HIV-infected people was analysed. One group had contracted HIV in less than five years and the other group had a chronic infection of more than 12 years. Interestingly, no difference was observed in the two groups between methylation patterns.

The research was conducted on 137 patients who did not have any other health conditions that could tamper the results. The findings were published in the journal Molecular Cell.

“People infected with HIV should be aware that they're of greater risk for age-related diseases and should work to diminish those risks by making healthy lifestyle choices regarding exercise, diet, and drug, alcohol and tobacco use,” the researchers said.

In another research finding, researchers at Georgetown University announced last week that a 71-year-old man was the first HIV patient to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. A neurologist with the university, Dr. R. Scott Turner, warned how certain HIV-infected patient may be diagnosed otherwise with HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND), when they actually be developing the deadly degenerative disease Alzheimer’s or both, writes Health Line.

“Chronic HIV infection and amyloid deposition with aging may represent a ‘double-hit’ to the brain that results in progressive dementia,” Turner said.

However, this 71-year-old may not be the first to have established the connection between HIV and Alzheimer’s. Co-director of the International NeuroHIV Cure Consortium and associate professor of geriatric medicine in the department of neurology at the University of California San Francisco, Dr. Victor Valcour is of the opinion that in 2008, his team diagnosed an HIV patient with Alzheimer’s.

“The truth about Alzheimer’s disease is that we don’t have the answers. It’ll be a while before we know. As long as people are living to be older, they’re at risk for Alzheimer’s,” Valcour said.