Neurologist Suggests HIV Linked to Brain Disease

A new study shows that one in four patients with HIV can develop any number of neurological disorders.

Following a 10-year study, Canadian researcher Dr. Chris Power, professor of neurology, Universities of Alberta and Calgary, and Canada Research Chair in Neurological Infection and Immunity, has found that 25% of patients infected with HIV can develop seizures, dementia, and other brain-related issues. Further, those with both HIV and a neurological disorder are at a greater risk of death than counterparts who only have HIV.

Power came to the conclusion after tracking 1,651 people who were treated at the Southern Alberta Clinic in Calgary between 1998 and 2008 and finding that 404 suffered from neurological disorders that include nerve pain in the hands and feet, memory loss, headaches, migraines, movement disorders, and CNS infections.

"To some extent neurologic disease associated with HIV has been eclipsed by other overwhelming medical problems so the neurological aspects have been ignored to some extent," Power said. "The good news is that people with HIV are living much longer now that we have anti-retroviral therapies. The bad news is that one in four people with HIV suffer from neurological diseases and face twice the risk of death compared to HIV sufferers without neurological diseases."

The problem, suggests Power, is that current pharmaceuticals don’t seem to enter the nervous system in large enough quantities to offset the effects on the brain of HIV.

"We know that there's some that are better than others, but we know that the level of drug in the blood is substantially lower than it is say in the spinal fluid. Only a fraction of the drug is getting into the brain." Power says current treatments could be altered or provided with different routes of administration so that they could enter the nervous system more easily, providing potential solutions to the issue.

"It's actually quite disturbing in the sense that he's reporting a significant number of people who are presenting with neurological disease related to HIV," said Dr. Julio Montaner, director, British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, of Power’s findings. He added that aggressive seeking and identifying of people infected with HIV, as early detection and testing could allow physicians to treat any neurological disorders before they progress too far. "An astonishing amount of the pathology that is being presented is actually preventable if we implement an aggressive strategy of what we call seek and treat," he added.