Sivay MV, Fogel JM, Wang J, Zhang Y, Piwowar-Manning E, Clarke W, Breaud A, Blankson J, Hamilton EL, Kahn K, Selin A, Gomez-Olive FX, MacPhail C, Hughes JP, Pettifor A, Eshleman SH. Natural control of HIV infection in young women in South Africa: HPTN 068. HIV Clin Trials. 2018, 19: 202-208. PMC6442735
BACKGROUND: Some individuals control HIV replication without antiretroviral (ARV) therapy. OBJECTIVE: To analyze viral suppression in young women in rural South Africa enrolled in a trial evaluating a behavioral intervention for HIV prevention. METHODS: Plasma samples were obtained from women ages 13-24 (81 infected at enrollment, 164 seroconverters). ARV testing was performed using an assay that detects 20 ARV drugs. Women were classified as viremic controllers if they were virally suppressed for >/=12 months with no ARV drug use. RESULTS: Samples from 216/245 (88.2%) women had no ARV drugs detected at their first HIV-positive visit. Thirty-four (15.7%) of the 216 women had a viral load <2,000 copies/mL. Fifteen of the 34 women were followed for >/=12 months; 12 were virally suppressed with no ARV drugs detected during follow-up. These women were classified as viremic controllers (overall: 12/216 = 5.6%). The median CD4 cell count at the first HIV-positive visit was higher among the 12 controllers than among the 204 women who were not using ARV drugs (759 vs. 549 cells/mm(3), p = 0.02). Some women had a viral load <40 copies/mL at a single study visit, but none were classified as elite controllers (viral load <40 copies/mL for >/=12 months with no ARV drug use). CONCLUSIONS: In this cohort, 5.6% of women who were not using ARV drugs had sustained viral suppression. This represents a minimum estimate of the frequency of viremic controllers in this cohort, since some women were not followed long enough to meet the criteria for classification.