Mortality & recurrent seizure risk after new-onset seizure in HIV-positive Zambian adults

Melissa A. Elafros*, Brent A. Johnson, Omar K. Siddiqi, Jason F. Okulicz, Izukanji Sikazwe, Christopher M. Bositis, Michael J. Potchen, Igor J. Koralnik, William H. Theodore, Lisa Kalungwana, Gretchen L. Birbeck

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Recurrent seizure risks in HIV-positive people with new-onset seizure are largely unknown, making it challenging to offer optimal recommendations regarding antiepileptic drug (AED) initiation. Existing outcomes data is limited, and risk factor identification requires a diagnostic assessment, which is often unavailable in regions heavily effected by HIV, like sub-Saharan Africa. Methods: HIV-positive Zambian adults with new-onset seizure were enrolled in a prospective cohort study to determine seizure recurrence and risk factors for recurrence. Seizure etiology was evaluated, and recurrent seizures and medication usage were assessed during clinic visits. Due to unexpectedly high mortality rates, predictors of death were evaluated using proportional hazards with Gray's test to compare cumulative incidence functions for recurrent seizure across groups adjusting for the competing outcome of death. Results: 95 patients were enrolled (mean age 37 years, 43% female, 83% with Karnofsky > 50) and followed for a mean of 293 days (median 241 (IQR: 29-532)). At presentation, 50 (53%) were in status epilepticus. The majority (91, 85%) had advanced HIV disease and 65 (68%) were not on combined antiretroviral therapy (cART). After extensive workup, seizure etiology remained unknown in 16 (17%). Average time to cART initiation after enrollment was 61 days. During follow up, 37 (39%) died and 23 (24%) had recurrent seizure. Most deaths (25/37, 68%) occurred in the first 60 days post-index seizure. Individuals with advanced HIV were more likely to die (HR: 19.1 [95% CI: 1.1-333.4]) as were those whose seizure etiology remained unknown (HR: 2.2 [95% CI: 1.1-4.4]). Among participants that survived from enrolment to the end of data collection on 10 May 2013 (n = 58), 20 (34%) experienced recurrent seizures. Conclusions: New-onset seizure among HIV-positive Zambian adults is associated with high mortality despite good functional status prior to presentation. Advanced HIV infection and failure to identify an underlying seizure etiology are associated with greater mortality. Recurrent seizures occur in over a third of survivors within only 2 years of follow-up. This provides evidence to support AED initiation after first seizure in HIV-positive individuals with advanced HIV disease at the time of presentation though the risks of AED-cART interactions remain a concern and warrant further study.

Original languageEnglish
Article number201
JournalBMC Neurology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 7 Dec 2018
Externally publishedYes


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