Little is known about the variability of CD4 counts in the general population of sub-Saharan Africa countries affected by the HIV epidemic. We investigated factors associated with CD4 counts in a rural area in South Africa with high HIV prevalence and high antiretroviral treatment (ART) coverage.
CD4 counts, health status, body mass index (BMI), demographic characteristics and HIV status were assessed in 4990 adult resident participants of a demographic surveillance in rural KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa; antiretroviral treatment duration was obtained from a linked clinical database. Multivariable regression analysis, overall and stratified by HIV status, was performed with CD4 count levels as outcome.
Median CD4 counts were significantly higher in women than in men overall (714 vs. 630 cells/µl, p<0.0001), both in HIV-uninfected (833 vs. 683 cells/µl, p<0.0001) and HIV-infected adults (384.5 vs. 333 cells/µl, p<0.0001). In multivariable regression analysis, women had 19.4% (95% confidence interval (CI) 16.1–22.9) higher CD4 counts than men, controlling for age, HIV status, urban/rural residence, household wealth, education, BMI, self-reported tuberculosis, high blood pressure, other chronic illnesses and sample processing delay. At ART initiation, HIV-infected adults had 21.7% (95% CI 14.6–28.2) lower CD4 counts than treatment-naive individuals; CD4 counts were estimated to increase by 9.2% (95% CI 6.2–12.4) per year of treatment.
CD4 counts are primarily determined by sex in HIV-uninfected adults, and by sex, age and duration of antiretroviral treatment in HIV-infected adults. Lower CD4 counts at ART initiation in men could be a consequence of lower CD4 cell counts before HIV acquisition.