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Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in Pediatric HIV Infection

Management of Children Receiving Antiretroviral Therapy

Considerations About Interruptions in Antiretroviral Therapy

(Last updated: February 12, 2014; last reviewed: February 12, 2014)

Panel's Recommendations

Panel's Recommendations

  • Outside the context of clinical trials, structured interruptions of combination antiretroviral therapy are not recommended for children (AIII).
Rating of Recommendations: A = Strong; B = Moderate; C = Optional
Rating of Evidence: I = One or more randomized trials in children with clinical outcomes and/or validated endpoints; I* = One or more randomized trials in adults with clinical outcomes and/or validated laboratory endpoints with accompanying data in children from one or more well-designed, nonrandomized trials or observational cohort studies with long-term clinical outcomes; II = One or more well-designed, nonrandomized trials or observational cohort studies in children with long-term outcomes; II* = One or more well-designed, nonrandomized trials or observational studies in adults with long-term clinical outcomes with accompanying data in children† from one or more similar nonrandomized trials or cohort studies with clinical outcome data; III = expert opinion
 Studies that include children or children and adolescents but not studies limited to postpubertal adolescents

Unplanned Interruptions

Temporary discontinuation of combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) may be indicated in some situations, including serious treatment-related toxicity, acute illnesses or planned surgeries that preclude oral intake, lack of available medication, or patient or parent request. Observational studies of children and youth with unplanned or non-prescribed treatment interruptions suggest that interruptions are common, most patients will experience immunologic decline during the treatment interruption, and most restart therapy.1-3

Structured Treatment Interruptions 

Planned discontinuation of therapy, or structured treatment interruptions, was considered as a potential strategy to reduce toxicity, costs, and drug-related failure associated with cART. 

Adult trials have demonstrated significantly higher morbidity and mortality in adults randomized to structured treatment interruptions compared with continuous cART.4 Current Department of Health and Human Services guidelines for adults recommend against planned long-term structured treatment interruptions in adults (see the Adult and Adolescent Antiretroviral Guidelines).

In children, there have been fewer studies of long-term structured treatment interruption. In one study, children with controlled viral load (HIV RNA <400 copies/mL for >12 months) were subjected to increasing intervals of treatment interruption. Of 14 children studied, 4 maintained undetectable viral loads with interruptions of up to 27 days. It has been hypothesized that enhanced HIV-specific immune responses may play a role in the viral suppression.5 However, new drug-resistance mutations were detected in 3 of 14 children in the structured treatment interruption study. In the European (PENTA) trial, 109 children with virologic suppression on cART were randomized to continuous therapy (CT) versus treatment interruption with CD4 T lymphocyte (CD4)-guided re-initiation of cART. On average, CD4 values decreased sharply in the first 10 weeks after structured treatment interruption. However, most children in the structured treatment interruption arm (almost 60%) did not reach CD4 criteria to restart therapy over 48 weeks. Children in the structured treatment interruption arm spent significantly less time on cART than children in the CT arm.6 None of the children in the trial experienced serious clinical illnesses or events, and the appearance of new drug-resistance mutations did not differ between the two arms.6 

In some populations of children, structured treatment interruption has been more specifically considered. One trial was designed to answer whether infants who initiated cART early could safely discontinue therapy at some point and reinitiate treatment based on CD4 cell decline. The CHER study in South Africa assessed outcomes in infants randomized to deferred cART (initiation driven by CDC stage and CD4 status), immediate cART with interruption after 40 weeks, or immediate cART with interruption after 96 weeks.7,8 While the 2 arms of interrupted therapy led to better outcomes compared to the deferred arms, up to 80% of infants had to restart therapy by the end of follow-up. The long-term outcomes in children after this interruption remain unknown and it is unclear if the short period of time on cART saved by most children merits the potential risks associated with cessation. 

Given the increased availability of medications with less toxicity, the potential benefits of long-term structured treatment interruption may be decreasing. Current data do not support use of long-term structured treatment interruption in clinical care of HIV-infected children; additional studies of structured treatment interruption in children may be warranted. 


  1. Gibb DM, Duong T, Leclezio VA, et al. Immunologic changes during unplanned treatment interruptions of highly active antiretroviral therapy in children with human immunodeficiency virus type 1 infection. Pediatr Infect Dis J. May 2004;23(5):446-450. Available at
  2. Saitoh A, Foca M, Viani RM, et al. Clinical outcomes after an unstructured treatment interruption in children and adolescents with perinatally acquired HIV infection. Pediatrics. Mar 2008;121(3):e513-521. Available at
  3. Siberry GK, Patel K, Van Dyke RB, et al. CD4+ lymphocyte-based immunologic outcomes of perinatally HIV-infected children during antiretroviral therapy interruption. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. Jul 1 2011;57(3):223-229. Available at
  4. Strategies for Management of Antiretroviral Therapy Study G, El-Sadr WM, Lundgren JD, et al. CD4+ count-guided interruption of antiretroviral treatment. N Engl J Med. Nov 30 2006;355(22):2283-2296. Available at
  5. Borkowsky W, Yogev R, Muresan P, et al. Planned multiple exposures to autologous virus in HIV type 1-infected pediatric populations increases HIV-specific immunity and reduces HIV viremia. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses 2008;24:401-11. Available at:
  6. Paediatric European Network for Treatment of A. Response to planned treatment interruptions in HIV infection varies across childhood. AIDS. Jan 16 2010;24(2):231-241. Available at
  7. Violari A, Cotton MF, Gibb DM, et al. Early antiretroviral therapy and mortality among HIV-infected infants. N Engl J Med. Nov 20 2008;359(21):2233-2244. Available at
  8. Cotton MF, Violari A, Otwombe K, et al. Early time-limted antiretroviral therapy versus deferred therapy in South African infants infected with HIV: results from the children with HIV early antiretroviral (CHER) randomised trial. Lancet 2013;382:1555-63. Available at:

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