Question 19

With respect to patients with HIV disease admitted to Intensive Care for a non-HIV related cause:

a)  What relevant information about the patient’s HIV disease would you elicit from the history, examination and investigations to assist management? (50% marks)

b)  Discuss the issues associated with the administration of antiretroviral therapy in the Intensive Care Unit. (50% marks)

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College Answer


  • Duration of disease
  • Treating physician
  • h/o AIDS defining illnesses
  • h/o opportunistic or other infections, Hep B/C status
  • h/o IVDU
  • h/o malignancy
  • Weight loss
  • Medication history
    • antiretrovirals, compliance
    • side effects with ART
    • prophylaxis against opportunistic infections

Clinical Examination

  • Nutritional state/wasting
  • Stigmata of IVDU
  • Oropharyngeal candidiasis, herpes simplex lesions
  • Assessment for cardiovascular risk and disease


  • recent CD4 & viral load
  • nadir CD4 and peak viral load
  • ART drug resistance tests
  • Previous chest x-ray- old TB/MAC, chronic changes
  • ECG- looking for ischaemic changes, (risk of accelerated atherosclerosis)


No prospective studies evaluating safety, efficacy & timing of ART in the ICU

1) ART interruption- Difficulty with administering oral drugs in the critically ill especially with GI dysfunction. No parenteral preparations. Treatment interruption can lead to resistance mutations (effects seen up to 3 months after). Interruption also has HIV- specific and non-HIV specific risks (cardiovascular, renal, liver)

2) Toxicities and Side Effects- Dose adjustment required with organ failure (renal or hepatic). Specific toxicities and complications such as lactic acidosis, pancreatitis, liver failure, cardiovascular disease and hypersensitivity reactions.

3) Drug Interactions- With commonly used ICU drugs such as midazolam, PPIs, H2 blockers, amiodarone.(specific names of drugs not required)

4) Immune Reconstitution Syndrome- May complicate new initiation of ART in ICU. Worsens respiratory failure from PJP or TB. Worsens neurological status from Cryptococcus or TB. Increased risk soon after commencement of ART and with low CD4 counts.



What relevant information is required to manage this patient?


Prognosis-defining features:

  • duration of disease
  • AIDS-defining illnesses
  • IV drug use
  • Malignancy
  • Weight loss
  • Compliance with meds
  • PJP prophylaxis
  • Side effects of the ART


  • Nutritional state
  • Stigmata of IVDU
  • oral candida
  • Oral heres simplex
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Respiratory disease (eg. COPD)


  • CD4 count
  • viral load
  • historical nadir
  • CXR (for TB, PJP)
  • ECG (accelerated atheroma)
  • ART drug resistances


In brief, as far as ART is concerned:

  • If they are already on antiretroviral drugs, those should continue.
  • However:
    • None are parenteral.
    • Many of them won't get absorbed properly (all are capsule drugs)
    • Alkalinised stomach content will not permit adequate absorption
    • Feeds need to be paused for the administration of many of them, leading to sub-optimal nutrition.
    • Metabolism and clearance will be altered
    • Some will interact with ICU medications (eg. protease inhibitors potentiate the effects of midazolam)
  • If they are not on antiretroviral drugs, and are admitted for some non-HIV related problem, then one can safely defer starting them until after the critical illness has resolved.
  • They may not know they have HIV. Up to 40% of patients admitted to ICU with a complication of HIV don't know they are infected.
  • If they are admitted with an infectious complication of untreated HIV, then antiretroviral drugs should be started as early as possible (it seems to result in less AIDS progression and decreased mortality with no increase in adverse events)
  • Exceptions to this rule are cryptococcal meningitis and TB meningitis, because:
    • Drug interactions are prohibitive.
    • A severe inflammatory syndrome (Immune Reconstituion Inflammatory Syndrome, IRIS) can develop.

Manifestations of IRIS may include:

  • ARDS
  • Vasodilated shock
  • Fevers and rigors
  • Worsening of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy
  • Worsening of CNS tuberculosis infection (or pulmonary, for that matter)
  • Worsening of CMV retinitis
  • Exacerbation (or de novo emergeance) of VZV encephalitis
  • Worsening of cryptococcal meningitis

ART might have numerous side effects:

  • All of these drugs are hepatotoxic
  • Didanosine and stavudine cause pancreatitis
  • NRTIs cause lactic acidosis
  • Tenofovir and indinavir are nephrotoxic
  • Nevirapine causes Stevens-Johnson syndrome


Oh's Manual:  Chapter 68  (pp. 710) HIV  and  acquired  immunodeficiency  syndrome  by Alexander  A  Padiglione  and  Steve  McGloughlin

Zolopa, Andrew R., et al. "Early antiretroviral therapy reduces AIDS progression/death in individuals with acute opportunistic infections: a multicenter randomized strategy trial." PloS one 4.5 (2009): e5575.

Huang, Laurence, et al. "Intensive care of patients with HIV infection." New England Journal of Medicine 355.2 (2006): 173-181.

Murdoch, David M., et al. "Immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (IRIS): review of common infectious manifestations and treatment options."AIDS research and therapy 4.1 (2007): 9.

Bajwa, Sukhminder Jit Singh, and Ashish Kulshrestha. "The potential anesthetic threats, challenges and intensive care considerations in patients with HIV infection.Journal of pharmacy & bioallied sciences 5.1 (2013): 10.