June 15 (UPI) -- People with HIV are living longer, and now have an average life expectancy that approaches that of those who don't have the disease, an analysis of U.S. health data published Monday in JAMA Network Open found.
As of 2016, overall life expectancy for a 21-year-old with HIV increased to 56 years -- a 35-year increase -- from roughly 38 years in 2003, according to the researchers.
HIV-negative 21-year-olds, meanwhile, had an overall life expectancy of 65 years, the researchers said.
Overall health, however, remains a challenge for the roughly 1.1 million Americans who have HIV, study co-author Julia Marcus told UPI.
"Our study reinforces the enormous benefits of antiretroviral therapy for extending both lifespan and healthy years among people with HIV," said Marcus, an assistant professor of population medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute.
"It's great news ... [but] we also found that people with HIV are living fewer healthy years, and that this gap hasn't really narrowed over time," Marcus said.
Between 2011 and 2016, 21-year-olds with HIV who had started antiretroviral therapy and had high levels of immune function -- based on CD4 cell counts -- had a life expectancy of just over 57 years, compared to just over 64 years among uninfected adults, the analysis showed.
But HIV-positive adults are at high risk for a number of "comorbidities" -- or related health conditions -- including liver, kidney, hear and chronic lung diseases, diabetes and cancer, according to Marcus and her colleagues.
In 2016, HIV-positive 21-year-olds could expect to live roughly 10 more comorbidity-free years, down from 11 years in 2003, researchers found. In comparison, uninfected 21-year-olds could expect to live more than 25 comorbidity-free years in 2016, they said.
Marcus and her colleagues based the findings on an analysis of health outcomes of 39,000 HIV-positive adults and more than 387,000 HIV-negative adults insured by Kaiser Permanente in northern and southern California, as well as in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. They reviewed the records of study participants from a 17-year period, from 2000 through 2016.
"We hope our study will highlight the need for greater attention to comorbidity prevention among people with HIV," Marcus said.
"Maintaining overall health among people with HIV is especially important these days because comorbidities like chronic lung disease and liver disease have been associated with severe illness from COVID-19."