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AIDS Could Rise Again in the U.S., Statistics Show

WebMD Health News

July 8, 2000 (Durban, South Africa) -- The head of the U.S. government agency that tracks HIV/AIDS infections said Saturday she's scared that new trends indicate an increase in the deadly disease that is believed to currently infect more than 850,000 Americans. She reported her findings here at a special media briefing hosted by the American Medical Association on the eve of the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa.

"These new figures do paint a picture of a real potential for resurgence [in the numbers of people with HIV infection]," says Helene D. Gayle, MD, MPH, director of the National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention at the CDC in Atlanta.

Gayle tells WebMD that she is concerned about trends that indicate AIDS rates could rise again after years of steady decline or stability -- especially due to risky behavior among young men and women. Gayle adds that as many as 5 million Americans are at risk of AIDS due to risky behavior.

The concerns are based on the latest CDC surveillance data on AIDS cases, deaths, and HIV diagnoses through June of 1999. Gayle also reported new risk behavior data and the preliminary results of the first wide-scale analysis of studies on HIV incidence conducted between 1978 and 1999.

Among the findings:

  • A leveling-off of the incidence of HIV infection and AIDS cases among people 13-24 years of age since 1996 -- at about 2,000 cases a year -- in 25 states.
  • Data indicating that just over 2% of the population engage in risky behavior: unprotected sex or drug-related risks.
  • Less than half of unmarried adults used condoms the last time they engaged in sexual intercourse.
  • Less than one-fourth of drug abusers used condoms the last time they had sex.
  • Twenty percent of drug users continue to share needles.

In addition, last week the San Francisco Department of Public Health reported a striking increase in new HIV infections between 1997 and 1999. The data show increases in infection of about 8% in 1998, the highest levels since 1991.

Other recent CDC data show a marked increase in infections from gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases.

"I am scared by the trends we are seeing," Gayle says. "I'm scared when we see increases in rates of sexually transmitted diseases. I'm scared when I see rates for gonorrhea among gay men increasing. I'm scared when I see the rates of AIDS cases in San Francisco -- which have been declining for six years -- rise again."

Currently, about 40,000 Americans contract HIV each year, down from the 100,000 new infections annually during the mid-1980s. The improvement is largely attributed to safer sex habits and drug users avoiding dirty needles.

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