Objectives: The risks and benefits of initiating antiretroviral treatment (ART) at high CD4 cell counts have not been reliably quantified. The Strategic Timing of AntiRetroviral Treatment (START) study is a randomized international clinical trial that compares immediate with deferred initiation of ART for HIV-positive individuals with CD4 cell counts above 500cells/μL. We describe the demographics, HIV-specific characteristics and medical history of this cohort. Methods: Data collected at baseline include demographics, HIV-specific laboratory values, prior medical diagnoses and concomitant medications. Baseline characteristics were compared by geographical region, gender and age. Results: START enrolled 4685 HIV-positive participants from 215 sites in 35 countries. The median age is 36 years [interquartile range (IQR) 29-44 years], 27% are female, and 45% self-identify as white, 30% as black, 14% as Latino/Hispanic, 8% as Asian and 3% as other. The route of HIV acquisition is reported as men who have sex with men in 55% of participants, heterosexual sex in 38%, injecting drug use in 1% and other/unknown in 5%. Median time since HIV diagnosis is 1.0 year (IQR 0.4-3.0 years) and the median CD4 cell count and HIV RNA values at study entry are 651cells/μL (IQR 584-765cells/μL) and 12754 HIV RNA copies/mL (IQR 3014-43607 copies/mL), respectively. Conclusions: START has enrolled a diverse group of ART-naïve individuals with high CD4 cell counts who are comparable to the HIV-positive population from the regions in which they were enrolled. The information collected with this robust study design will provide a database with which to evaluate the risks and benefits of early ART use for many important outcomes.
- Clinical trial
- START trial
- When to start antiretroviral therapy