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HIV drug increases risk of kidney damage

Filed February 21st, 2012 Joshua Sophy

A popular drug prescribed in the treatment of HIV infections increases the chances a person will suffer severe kidney damage, according to the results of a new study.

San Francisco Chronicle reports the city’s VA Medical Center has recently concluded a study of the HIV drug tenofovir and found it increases the likelihood a patient taking it will suffer kidney damage by 34 percent every year they take the drug. The VA study included 10,000 HIV-positive patients treated at the hospital.

Tenofovir is a once-daily drug often prescribed in the treatment of HIV infection. It is an antiretroviral drug often combined with other drugs into one pill.

This is the first study to pinpoint tenofovir as the cause of a spike in the risk of kidney damage suffered by people taking antiretroviral drugs. The report indicates physicians have known for some time that this class of drugs does pose risks to the kidneys but have, until now, been unable to identify the drug responsible.

The study notes that this risk may not be enough to turn people away from tenofovir, especially if the drug is particularly effective in preventing HIV from becoming AIDS. This should concern any recent efforts to approve tenofovir as a preventative treatment for HIV infections.

Chief internist at the San Francisco VA Dr. Michael Shlipak told The Chronicle the real risks of tenofovir are more pronounced for long-time sufferers or for HIV-infected patients faced with a lifetime ahead of taking the drug. If tenofovir is taken for two decades or more, the actual risk of kidney damage is very high.

The report also noted that ongoing studies which are examining the potential of tenofovir being a preventative drug for HIV infection have not noted the same risk of kidney damage. Only “a handful” of the 2,500 “otherwise healthy” men participating in a tenofovir as a prevention drug study at University of California-San Francisco eventually suffered kidney damage but this side effect was no longer an issue when the drug was stopped.

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