Smoking presents a greater risk to HIV-positive people than HIV itself

7 December 2017 09:42

Compared to the general population, an abnormally high rate of Americans living with HIV are smokers: By one 2009 study’s count, 50 to 70 percent of HIV-positive people smoke; another from 2016 estimated it’s at least more than 40 percent. «That’s more than double the rate of smoking in the general population,» said Krishna P. Reddy, a Boston-based doctor and researcher specializing in HIV comorbidities.

Today, medical breakthroughs mean HIV-positive people can have near-normal life expectancy rates—but not if you smoke. Dr. Reddy was the lead researcher on a study published this November in JAMA Internal Medicine, examining lung cancer mortality rates for smokers living with HIV. His results were shocking: HIV-positive smokers are six to 13 times more likely to die from lung cancer than from traditional AIDS-related causes, Vice reports.

«For those on HIV medicines, smoking is a much bigger threat to health than HIV itself,» said Reddy, who emphasized that lung cancer, rather than complications due to the virus, is now one of the leading causes of death for people with HIV.

According to the JAMA study, HIV-positive men and women who smoked daily faced high lung cancer mortality rates—23 percent for men and 20.9 percent for women. But if they quit smoking, those risks decreased dramatically—dropping to 6.1 percent and 5.2 percent.

«This is a great reminder of the effectiveness of current HIV treatments to prevent disease progression,» said Richard Wolitski, director of the Office for HIV/AIDS at the Department of Health and Human Services. «For the first half of the epidemic, it was a harsh reality that we did not see the effects of smoking on people living with HIV, because they became sick and died so quickly of AIDS.» People living with HIV today can live longer lives, Wolitski admits, «but smoking is a significant and critical threat to the health of those individuals, even those who take HIV medications every day as prescribed. If we want to save the lives of people with HIV, we also have to tackle smoking and other health threats.»

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