Neurological and neurocognitive function of HIV-infected children commenced on antiretroviral therapy

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South African Journal of Child Health

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Health & Medical Publishing Group


University of Cape Town

Aim: To describe neurological and neurocognitive deficits in HIV-infected children and the short-term effect of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) on the observed deficits. Methods: In this prospective study, 39 children (15 females) were evaluated before the start of HAART and 30 reassessed 6 months later. The subjects were evaluated with a range of cognitive tests used in everyday clinical practice. Results: At enrolment, the mean (±SD) age was 60±46 months, 17 (44%) and 22 (56%) had Centers for Disease Control (CDC) clinical category B and C disease respectively, and 36 (92%) had severe immunosuppression. At the start of HAART no child had cranial nerve or cerebellar dysfunction, but 13/29 (33.3%) had evidence of motor dysfunction. By 6 months 1 child had developed cerebellar dysfunction, but there was no statistically significant change in the frequency of motor dysfunction. Mean baseline performances on cognitive testing were generally subnormal. Between 33% and 81% of the children recorded subnormal intelligence quotients on various cognitive tests. Mean performances did not change significantly after 6 months of HAART. Conclusion: Neurological and neurocognitive deficits are frequent in HIV-infected children. The prevalence and extent of deficits did not change significantly in response to short-term HAART, indicating neither spontaneous improvement nor deterioration during early treatment.