Introduction Antiretroviral therapy has improved the health of people living with HIV (PLW-HIV), though less is known about how this impacts on acute respiratory illness. These illnesses are a common cause of ill health in the general population and any increase in their frequency or severity in PLW-HIV might have significant implications for health-related quality of life and the development of chronic respiratory disease. Methods In a prospective observational cohort study following PLW-HIV and HIV negative participants for 12 months with weekly documentation of any acute respiratory illness, we compared the frequency, severity and healthcare use associated with acute respiratory illnesses to determine whether PLW-HIV continue to have a greater frequency or severity of such illnesses despite antiretroviral therapy. Results We followed-up 136 HIV positive and 73 HIV negative participants for 12 months with weekly documentation of any new respiratory symptoms. We found that HIV status did not affect the frequency of acute respiratory illness: unadjusted incidence rates per person year of follow-up were 2.08 illnesses (95% CI 1.81 2.38) and 2.30 illnesses (1.94 2.70) in HIV positive and negative participants respectively, IRR 0.87 (0.70 1.07) p = 0.18. However, when acute respiratory illnesses occurred, PLW-HIV reported more severe symptoms (relative fold-change in symptom score 1.61 (1.28 2.02), p <0.001) and were more likely to seek healthcare advice (42% vs 18% of illnesses, odds ratio 3.32 (1.48 7.39), p = 0.003). After adjustment for differences in baseline characteristics, PLW-HIV still had higher symptom scores when unwell. Conclusions HIV suppression with antiretroviral therapy reduces the frequency of acute respiratory illness to background levels, however when these occur, they are associated with more severe self-reported symptoms and greater healthcare utilisation. Exploration of the reasons for this greater severity of acute respiratory illness may allow targeted interventions to improve the health of people living with HIV.
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