In the largest study of its kind, doctors in five cities have found that people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus can delay progression to full-blown AIDS if they take the drug AZT and other medications for a deadly pneumonia.
The study involving 2,516 homosexual and bisexual men from Baltimore, Washington, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles found that the drugs reduced by 60 percent the chances that an infected person would progress to AIDS in a six-month period.
AZT has been in wide usage since 1987. Since then, other drugs such as the aerosol pentamadine have been used to fight an AIDS-related pneumonia.
The Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health was one of four institutions in the study.
"The study demonstrated that these drugs could have a major effect on the community's health if they became readily available," said Dr. Scott Zeger, professor of biostatistics at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.
The study appears in this week's edition of the Lancet, a leading medical journal published in Britain. The lead author was Dr. Neil Graham, a Hopkins epidemiologist.
In May, a team of doctors from Johns Hopkins Hospital reported that AZT doubles the survival time of patients who already suffer from full-blown AIDS -- but its price has placed it out of the reach of half of the Maryland patients who need it.