Rita Tekeste, 34, is HIV positive.


Since she was diagnosed with the infection seven years ago, she has been on antiretroviral medications, which keep her virus under control while she raises two children, works, and volunteers at the Southern Alberta HIV Clinic in Calgary.


But starting in 2007, Tekeste had some new problems: horrendous headaches, debilitating seizures and loss of memory.


Thanks to one of her physicians, Dr. Chris Powers, the world now knows that neurological problems like this are fairly common in people with HIV/AIDS patients.


He and colleagues recently published results of an important 10-year study linking HIV to neurological disease.

“In a nutshell, we showed that despite the availability of antiretroviral drugs, neurological disease is common, occurring in over 20 per cent of those with HIV,” Dr. Powers told Metro.

He is a professor in neurology at the universities of Alberta and Calgary and Canada Research Chair in Neurological Infection and Immunity.

Tekeste is now feeling OK. She’s on medications to control her seizures and headaches, as well as taking a cocktail of HIV drugs.

Overall, there is good news on the HIV front, thanks to the dozens of HIV medications now on the market in Canada.

“Yes, it is not universally fatal the way it was before, because of the availability of antiretrovirals,” says Power. But there is bad news too.

“Survival depends on drug cocktails that are hard to take, expensive and toxic. And survival is still much less than in the general population and particularly bad if you have neurological disease.”

The study included 1,651 people infected with HIV who were being treated at the Southern Alberta Clinic in Calgary between 1998 and 2008; in those 10 years, 404 of them had neurological problems such as seizures, dementia, nerve pain in their hands and feet, memory loss, headaches and migraines.