Viral load, CD4+ T-lymphocyte counts and antibody titres in HIV-1 infected untreated children in Kenya; implication for immunodeficiency and AIDS progression

  • Washingtone Ochieng Department of Virology and Immunology, German Primate Centre, Kellnerweg 4, 37077 Goettingen, Germany
  • Dorington Ogoyi Department of Biochemistry, University of Nairobi, Kenya
  • Francis J Mulaa Department of Biochemistry, University of Nairobi, Kenya
  • Simon Ogola Nyumbani Hospice for HIV Orphaned Children, Nairobi, Kenya
  • Rachel Musoke Department of Paediatrics, University of Nairobi, Kenya
  • Moses G Otsyula Virology Division, Institute of Primate Research, Nairobi, Kenya
Keywords: HIV, progression, immune response, threshold, untreated children, Africa


Background: There are limited reports on HIV-1 RNA load, CD4+ T-lymphocytes and antibody responses in relation to disease progression in HIV-1 infected untreated children in Africa.

Methods: To describe the relationships between these parameters, we conducted a longitudinal cohort study involving 51 perinatally HIV-1 infected children aged between 1 and 13 years. HIV status was determined by ELISA and confirmed by western blot and PCR. Antibodies were quantified by limiting dilution ELISA, plasma HIV-1 RNA load by RT-PCR and CD4+ T-lymphocytes by FACSCount.

Results: Asymptomatic and symptomatic disease had, respectively, a rise in median HIV-1 RNA load from 1,195 to 132,543 and from 42,962 to 1,109,281 copies/ml in children below 6 years. The increase in viral load was 10-fold higher for asymptomatic compared to other categories and 2-fold faster for children less than 6 years than those above. Similarly, symptomatic children below 6 years had initial median CD4+ T-lymphocyte counts of 647 (22%) cells/μL, declining to 378 (20%) while those above 6 years had initial values of below 335 (15%) but which increased to 428 (17%). Median viral load correlated significantly with median CD4+ T-lymphocyte percentage in children above 6 years (p=0.026) but not below.

Conclusions: Viral load is lower in older than younger children and correlates significantly with percentage CD4+ T-lymphocytes. Survival by HIV-1 infected children requires a competent immune response early in infection to counter the rapidly replicating virus. Interventions aimed at boosting the naïve immune system may prolong survival in these children.

African Health Sciences Vol. 6(1) 2006: 3-13

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eISSN: 1680-6905