Factors associated with HIV viral load "blips" and the relationship between self-reported adherence and efavirenz blood levels on blip occurrence: A case-control study

Aaron Farmer, Xun Wang, Anuradha Ganesan, Robert G. Deiss, Brian K. Agan, Thomas A. O'Bryan, Kevin Akers, Jason F. Okulicz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Background: The uncertain etiology of HIV viral load (VL) blips may lead to increased use of clinical resources. We evaluated the association of self-reported adherence (SRA) and antiretroviral (ART) drug levels on blip occurrence in US Military HIV Natural History Study (NHS) participants who initiated the single-tablet regimen efavirenz/emtricitabine/tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (EFV/FTC/TDF). Methods: ART-naïve NHS participants started on EFV/FTC/TDF between 2006 and 2013 who achieved VL suppression (<50 copies/mL) within 12 months and had available SRA and stored plasma samples were included. Participants with viral blips were compared with those who maintained VL suppression without blips. Untimed EFV plasma levels were evaluated on consecutive blip and non-blip dates by high performance liquid chromatography, with a level ≥1 mcg/mL considered therapeutic. SRA was categorized as ≥85 or <85 %. Descriptive statistics were performed for baseline characteristics and univariate and multivariate Cox proportional hazard models were used to assess the relationship between covariates and blip occurrence. Results: A total of 772 individuals met inclusion criteria, including 99 (13 %) blip and 673 (87 %) control participants. African-American was the predominant ethnicity and the mean age was 29 years for both groups. SRA ≥ 85 % was associated with therapeutic EFV levels at both blip and non-blip time points (P = 0.0026); however no association was observed between blips and SRA or EFV levels among cases. On univariate analysis of cases versus controls, blips were associated with higher mean pre-treatment VL (HR 1.45, 95 % CI 1.11-1.89) and pre-treatment CD4 count <350 cells/μL (68.1 vs 49.7 %). Multivariate analysis also showed that blips were associated with a higher mean VL (HR 1.42, 95 % CI 1.08-1.88; P = 0.0123) and lower CD4 count at ART initiation, with CD4 ≥500 cells/μL having a protective effect (HR 0.45, 95 % CI 0.22-0.95; P = 0.0365). No association was observed for demographic characteristics or SRA. Conclusion: Blips are commonly encountered in the clinical management of HIV-infected patients. Although blip occurrence was not associated with SRA or EFV blood levels in our study, blips were associated with HIV-related factors of pre-ART high VL and low CD4 count. Additional studies are needed to determine the etiology of blips in HIV-infected patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number16
JournalAIDS Research and Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 22 Mar 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Blips
  • Human immunodeficiency virus
  • Self-reported adherence


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