Rates of pneumonia and pneumococcal disease remain high among people with HIV

By | November 19, 2019

The incidence of invasive pneumococcal disease and community-acquired pneumonia remains high among people living with HIV, investigators from the Netherlands report in Clinical Infectious Diseases. Rates of these serious lung infections were highest among people not taking anti-HIV drugs and with CD4 cell count below 500. Incidence was also much higher than that seen in the general population.  Dr Hannah Garcia Garrido and her colleagues at the University of Amsterdam Medical Centre believe their findings show the importance of providing the pneumococcal vaccine to all people with HIV.

“This highlights that even in a well-managed patient population in an academic HIV treatment centre in a high-income country, pneumococcal disease and community-acquired pneumonia remain important causes of morbidity,” comment the authors.

A large body of research has shown that people living with HIV have an increased risk of pneumococcal pneumonia and community-acquired pneumonia, especially when the latter is caused by the bacterial infection Streptococcus pneumoniae. Much of this research was conducted either before combination therapy was introduced (in the mid-1990s) or in the early treatment era which relied on drugs that would now be considered sub-optimal. Moreover, since 2015, antiretrovirals have been recommended for all people with HIV, regardless of CD4 cell count.



In medical terms, going inside the body.


A variant characterised by a specific genotype.


Any micro-organism which can cause disease. There are four main types: bacteria, fungi, protozoa, viruses. Parasitic worms are sometimes described as pathogens.

Dr Garcia Garrido and her colleagues therefore wanted to see if people with HIV remained at increased risk of pneumococcal disease and community-acquired pneumonia in the modern treatment era. Their study  involved people with HIV who received care at the University of Amsterdam’s HIV clinic between 2008 and 2017. They identified all cases of pneumococcal disease and community-acquired pneumonia and undertook a series of analyses to calculate incidence rates for both diseases. A case-controlled analysis was used to identify risk factors for community-acquired pneumonia.

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Cases of pneumococcal disease and community acquired pneumonia were laboratory confirmed. Samples were analysed to determine the pneumococcal strain and the type of pathogen causing the community acquired pneumonia. The investigators especially wanted to see if strains were covered by pneumococcal vaccines. The use of this vaccine among people with HIV is recommended in international guidelines, though in the Netherlands it is only recommended for people with HIV who have additional risk factors.  Despite longstanding recommendations, in all settings, vaccine uptake is low.

The investigators identified 24 cases of invasive pneumococcal disease (in 21 people living with HIV) and 318 episodes of community-acquired pneumonia (in 215 people living with HIV). There was a high mortality rate: 8% for invasive pneumococcal disease and 4% for community acquired pneumonia.

Incidence rates of invasive pneumococcal disease, community-acquired pneumonia and pneumococcal community-acquired pneumonia were 111, 1529 and 159 per 100,000 person-years of follow-up, respectively.

Rates of invasive pneumococcal disease were higher among individuals who were not taking anti-HIV drugs (490/100,000) or who had a CD4 cell count below 500 (246/100,000) compared with people on antiretrovirals (80/100,000) or with a CD4 cell count above 500 (40/100,000).

Similarly, for community-acquired pneumonia, incidence was highest among those not on antiretrovirals and with a CD4 cell count below 500 (8023/100,000). Rates were much lower in people taking anti-HIV drugs and with a high CD4 cell count (946/100,000).

The investigators undertook a case-control analysis to determine the risk factors for community-acquired pneumonia among individuals on antiretrovirals. Each case was matched with a person diagnosed with HIV in the same year who did not develop pneumonia.

“The incidence of invasive pneumococcal disease among people with HIV was seven times higher than that seen in the general Dutch population.”

Identified risk factors included age of 60 years and older, a CD4 cell count below 500, smoking, recreational drug use and chronic-obstructive pulmonary disease. Coverage of pneumococcal vaccination was low in both the cases and controls (7% vs 4%).

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The incidence of invasive pneumococcal disease among people with HIV was seven times higher than that seen in the general Dutch population and 20-times higher than that recorded among healthy individuals in the Netherlands. Similarly, incidence of community-acquired pneumonia among the HIV-positive individuals was eight times higher than that seen among the Dutch population as a whole.

Microbiological analysis showed that the pneumococcal vaccines covered all the cultured strains. Penicillin resistance was identified in 7% of Streptococcus pneumoniae cases, with one strain having resistance to multiple classes of antibiotics.

“With Streptococcus pneumoniae the most commonly identified pathogen of community acquired pneumonia, and all the serotyped pneumococcal isolates being covered by available pneumococcal vaccines, we provide additional arguments against the current poor adherence to international recommendations for pneumococcal vaccination,” conclude the authors.

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