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The Fight Against AIDS
Doctors around the world have been fighting the AIDS epidemic since the 1980s.
Now that we have a better understanding of how the disease works, the death rate and the rate of infection have gone down.
However, young people under the age of 25 are still contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, faster than any other group. This means that a re-energized message of prevention must be targeted to them.
That's the headline from a recent meeting of top doctors and researchers at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
The doctors were optimistic because new treatments are allowing people with AIDS to live much longer than before.
But the doctors are worried that these advances can be misinterpreted to mean that we don't have to worry about the disease anymore.
And nothing could be further from the truth. Most drug therapies have numerous side effects and require strict daily routines, which can be difficult to follow. Patients start to feel better and take a "holiday" from their drug therapies, undermining their intended effect.
Dr. Helene Gayle, director of HIV/AIDS prevention, says that awareness and prevention are our best hope for a world without this devastating disease.
"People felt, well, you know, we now have this great treatment. HIV is not such a bad disease. It's not so serious. If you get it, you take some pills and it's not so bad," she said in a NewsHour interview.
But, "If you talk to anybody who has HIV infection, they are happy that they have better and better therapies and can live a better quality of life, but anyone that you ask would still say it's better not to have HIV infection. It is still a very serious disease. There are a lot of side effects to these new medications. And we can't be lulled into a sense of complacency. But I think we have been."
AIDS – acquired immune deficiency syndrome – is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The HIV virus kills the cells that help the body fight infections and certain cancers. Individuals with AIDS are not protected against life-threatening diseases called opportunistic infections, which are caused by microbes that usually do not cause illness in healthy people.
New treatments include protease inhibitors, which keep the virus from replicating, and drug cocktail therapies, which are combinations of different drugs designed to slow the progression of the disease.
There is no known cure for HIV. The disease is spread through unprotected sex, intravenous drug use, and blood transfusions. However, the American Red Cross has required HIV testing of all donated blood since 1985.
AIDS in the U.S. and around the world
More than 40,000 Americans become infected with HIV every year, and more than half of these are young people under the age of 25.
The epidemic is growing most rapidly among minority populations and is a leading killer of African-American males. The prevalence of AIDS is six times higher in African-Americans and three times higher among Hispanics than among whites.
AIDS was first reported in the United States in 1981 and has since become a major worldwide epidemic. There were 33 million people alive with HIV infection or AIDS as of 1998, around a third were young people aged 15-24.
The highest numbers of AIDS victims outside the U.S. are in African and Asian countries, where educational and medical resources are expensive and scarce. Different cultural and religious beliefs have also limited messages of family planning and safer sex.
What can be done?
The United Nations AIDS program has outlined two goals to help stop the spread of HIV among youths. First, convince governments and health organizations that they need to listen to young people and work within the culture to spread the word about how to avoid this deadly disease.
Second, use the information that comes from young people to strengthen AIDS programs.
Many organizations use schools, radio and TV to educate teenagers about safe sex and abstinence. Some offer needle-exchange programs and support for young people living with, or orphaned by AIDS.
The NewsHour has followed the epidemic of AIDS for years. Here is a list of the topics covered:
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