Clinical review: Respiratory failure in HIV-infected patients - a changing picture
1 Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine and Anaesthesia, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, St Helier Hospital, Carshalton, Surrey, United Kingdom
2 Specialist Registrar, General and Renal Medicine, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Trust, United Kingdom
Critical Care 2013, 17:228 doi:10.1186/cc12552Published: 14 June 2013
Respiratory failure in HIV-infected patients is a relatively common presentation to ICU. The debate on ICU treatment of HIV-infected patients goes on despite an overall decline in mortality amongst these patients since the AIDS epidemic. Many intensive care physicians feel that ICU treatment of critically ill HIV patients is likely to be futile. This is mainly due to the unfavourable outcome of HIV patients with Pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia who need mechanical ventilation. However, the changing spectrum of respiratory illness in HIV-infected patients and improved outcome from critical illness remain under-recognised. Also, the awareness of certain factors that can affect their outcome remains low. As there are important ethical and practical implications for intensive care clinicians while making decisions to provide ICU support to HIV-infected patients, a review of literature was undertaken. It is notable that the respiratory illnesses that are not directly related to underlying HIV disease are now commonly encountered in the highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) era. The overall incidence of P. jirovecii as a cause of respiratory failure has declined since the AIDS epidemic and sepsis including bacterial pneumonia has emerged as a frequent cause of hospital and ICU admission amongst HIV patients. The improved overall outcome of HIV patients needing ICU admission is related to advancement in general ICU care, including adoption of improved ventilation strategies. An awareness of respiratory illnesses in HIV-infected patients along with an appropriate diagnostic and treatment strategy may obviate the need for invasive ventilation and improve outcome further. HIV-infected patients presenting with respiratory failure will benefit from early admission to critical care for treatment and support. There is evidence to suggest that continuing or starting HAART in critically ill HIV patients is beneficial and hence should be considered after multidisciplinary discussion. As a very high percentage (up to 40%) of HIV patients are not known to be HIV infected at the time of ICU admission, the clinicians should keep a low threshold for requesting HIV testing for patients with recurrent pneumonia.