Clinicoepidemiological Characteristics of HIV-Infected Immigrants Attended at a Tropical Medicine Referral Unit


  • This article has been partially presented at the 11th European AIDS Conference, Madrid, Spain, October 24 to 27, 2007.

José A. Pérez-Molina, MD, PhD, Tropical Medicine and Clinical Parasitology Unit, Infectious Diseases Department, Ramón y Cajal Hospital, Carretera de Colmenar Km 9,100, Madrid 28034, Spain. E-mail:


Background Migration is a growing phenomenon with a well-known impact in infectious diseases epidemiology. Currently, immigrants represent almost 10% of the Spanish population. The majority come from countries where the prevalence of chronic viral illnesses is higher than in Spain.

Methods To describe clinicoepidemiological features of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)–infected immigrants attending our Unit and to compare differential characteristics depending on geographical origin, information from all new immigrants from January 1997 to December 2006 was collected. Study design: noninterventional retrospective chart review.

Results We screened 1,609 patients of whom 77 (4.8%) were HIV antibody (Ab) positive. Of these, 80% were sub-Saharan Africans (SSAFR) and 20% were South–Central Americans (SCA). HIV prevalence was higher in SSAFR (5.6% vs 3.2%; p= 0.04). Overall, of those who were HIV Ab positive, 70% were male (median age 30 years), 59% heterosexuals, 9% hepatitis C virus coinfected, 8.6% hepatitis B virus coinfected, and 34% showed a positive tuberculin skin test. Median CD4 cell count was 263 cells/μL, median HIV-ribonucleic acid viral load 4.6 Log/mL, and 48% had a late diagnosis [acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)–defining illness or <200 CD4 μL at the time of diagnosis]. Only 68% of patients for whom antiretroviral therapy was indicated actually started therapy and 22% were lost to follow-up just after diagnosis. SCA had lower CD4 cell counts (26 vs 168 cells/μL; p= 0.016), higher viral loads (5.3 vs 4.8 Log; p= 0.001), and were more likely to have an AIDS-defining illness (53% vs 21%; p= 0.04) compared to SSAFR. Tuberculin skin test reactivity was more common among SSAFR versus SCA [adjusted by CD4 count, odds ratio (OR) 6.3 and 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.65–60.5]. The main risk factor for late diagnosis was geographical origin: OR 4.6 (95% CI: 1.11–19.3) (SCA vs SSAFR; adjusted by the interval between the date of arrival in Spain and the date of HIV diagnosis).

Conclusions Almost half the HIV-infected immigrants were diagnosed in late stages. Patients were frequently lost to follow-up, and a significant minority did not start highly active antiretroviral therapy when indicated. SCA seem to have more severe immunosuppression at the time of diagnosis than SSAFR. Early voluntary routine HIV screening should be promoted.