Objective: To characterize the effect of cytomegalovirus (CMV) retinitis and its treatment on visual acuity in patients with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. Methods: We evaluated 648 consecutive patients with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome at 1 center for the prevalence of visual impairment at the time of CMV retinitis diagnosis and for the incidence of visual impairment across time. Results: Among affected eyes, the prevalence of a visual acuity measurement of 20/50 or worse or 20/200 or worse at the time of CMV retinitis diagnosis was 33% and 17%, respectively. White race and injection drug use were associated with a lower and a higher prevalence of visual impairment, respectively. At 1 year, the cumulative incidence of loss of 3, 6, and 10 lines of visual acuity was 42%, 30%, and 23%, respectively, and the incidence of visual impairment to the level of 20/50 or worse and 20/ 200 or worse was 34% and 24%, respectively. Patients who received highly active antiretroviral therapy had an approximately 75% lower risk of visual impairment, with the greatest benefit among those observed to have immune recovery. The incidence of loss of visual acuity did not significantly differ between eyes treated with systemic anti-CMV therapy only, initial ganciclovir implant therapy, or systemic followed by implant therapy. Conclusions: The prevalence of visual impairment at the time of CMV retinitis diagnosis is high and varies according to demographic characteristics. The incidence of visual impairment during follow-up is also high but is substantially lower among patients who receive highly active antiretroviral therapy, especially those observed to have immune recovery.
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