25 Million AIDS Dead and Counting

Bright Spot: U.S. Teens Putting Themselves Less at Risk

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on August 10, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

August 10, 2006 - Twenty-five million dead -- so far. And that's only part of the world AIDS scorecard.

Another 4.1 million new HIV infections in 2005 brought the world total of those living with HIV to 38.6 million. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

These updated statistics on the world AIDS pandemic appear in today's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the CDC. That's the same publication that 25 years ago first reported the illness now known as acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

"The HIV/AIDS pandemic ... has reversed the course of human development and eroded improvements in life expectancy in countries with the highest prevalence of infection," the CDC notes in an editorial comment.


Why worry about these numbers?

After all, modern AIDS treatments can keep HIV infection under control. And there have been huge increases in the number of people getting these treatments.

Here's why.

In the 15 African nations that are home to nearly two-thirds of people with HIV, only one in five get needed AIDS drugs.

And worldwide, fewer than one in 10 pregnant women with HIV receive the AIDS drugs that would keep them from passing the infection to their babies.

It's not just an African problem. In the U.S., the CDC says, only 55% of people in need of AIDS drugs are treated. That compares poorly to Brazil, where 83% of those with HIV take AIDS drugs provided, free, by their government.

U.S. Trends: Teens a Bright Spot

There are other disturbing U.S. trends. The CDC reports "a resurgence" of HIV among men who have sex with men.

Racial and ethnic minorities are increasingly bearing the brunt of AIDS in this country. Black and Hispanic Americans now account for seven of every 10 HIV/AIDS cases.

There is some good news. U.S. teens, the CDC reports, have significantly reduced their risk of HIV infection.

That finding comes from the CDC's Youth Risk Behavior Surveys. These are in-school questionnaires, given every odd-numbered year since 1991, to national samples of grade 9-12 students in all 50 states.

As of 2005:

  • 46.8% of teens reported ever having sex -- down from 54.1% in 1991.
  • 14.3% of teens reported four or more lifetime sex partners -- down from 18.7% in 1991.
  • 33.9% of teens reported sexual intercourse in the past three months -- down from 37.4% in 1991.
  • 62.8% of sexually active teens said they used a condom -- up from 46.2% in 1991.
  • Only 2.1% of teens said they had ever used illegal injection drugs - the same as in 1995.

Teens could, of course, simply be better at finessing the questionnaires. But hard data backs up the surveys. The decreases in risky behavior correspond to drops in teen gonorrhea, pregnancy, and birth rates.

Despite these gains, the CDC warns that many teens continue to do things that put them at risk for HIV infection.

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SOURCES: CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Aug. 11, 2006; vol 55: pp 841-854.

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