Routine HIV-1 antiretroviral drug resistance testing for patients failing NNRTI-based regimens is not recommended in resource-limited settings. Therefore, surveys are required to monitor resistance profiles in patients failing ART.
A cross-sectional survey was conducted amongst patients failing NNRTI-based regimens in the public sector throughout South Africa. Virological failure was defined as two consecutive HIV-1 viral load results >1000 RNA copies/mL. Pol sequences were obtained using RT-PCR and Sanger sequencing and submitted to Stanford HIVdb v7.0.1.
A total of 788 sequences were available for analysis. Most patients failed a tenofovir-based NRTI backbone (74.4%) in combination with efavirenz (82.1%) after median treatment duration of 36 months. K103N (48.9%) and V106M (34.9%) were the most common NNRTI mutations. Only one-third of patients retained full susceptibility to second-generation NNRTIs such as etravirine (36.5%) and rilpivirine (27.3%). After M184V/I (82.7%), K65R was the most common NRTI mutation (45.8%). The prevalence of K65R increased to 57.5% in patients failing a tenofovir regimen without prior stavudine exposure. Cross-resistance to NRTIs was often observed, but did not seem to affect the predicted activity of zidovudine as 82.9% of patients remained fully susceptible to this drug.
The introduction of tenofovir-based first-line regimens has dramatically increased the prevalence of K65R mutations in the HIV-1-infected South African population. However, most patients failing tenofovir-based regimens remained fully susceptible to zidovudine. Based on these data, there is currently no need to change either the recommended first- or second-line ART regimens in South Africa.