Biomarkers sought for alcohol abuse among HIV-infected patients

There are, of course, many problems associated with heavy drinking, but if you're HIV-positive and drink heavily, your treatment becomes more and more difficult. Unfortunately, according to researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine, unhealthy alcohol use is common in HIV-infected patients. But, other than somewhat unreliable self-reporting, doctors often are the last to know about their patients' heavy drinking. What they want is a biomarker that can tell if an HIV patient has a drinking problem.

First, more background on why this is important. Heavy drinking interferes with adherence to HIV meds, may lower CD4 cell count and can cause hepatic injury. Also, HIV co-infection with viral hepatitis is common and both HIV and viral hepatitis are adversely impacted by alcohol. So, early detection of unhealthy alcohol use is important, the researchers say.

The BU researchers set out to see if measuring HIV patients' carbohydrate-deficient transferrin (CDT) biomarker did any good, and it turned out that it was "a poor and inaccurate method for detecting unhealthy drinking," according to a release. Their findings appear in the journal AIDS Care.

"There is evidence that early intervention for unhealthy alcohol use can be effective but early clinical signs are often missed and unhealthy alcohol use often goes undiagnosed by HIV healthcare providers," principal investigator Jeffrey Samet said in a statement. "Unfortunately among HIV-infected adults with alcohol problems, CDT had poor overall accuracy for detecting unhealthy drinking.."

Samet said other biomarkers should be checked out, but meanwhile self-report questionnaires will have to do for detecting unhealthy alcohol use.

- read the release from the Boston University Medical Center