HIV overview

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported the first five known cases of complications from HIV in Los Angeles in June 1981. The previously healthy men had contracted pneumonia, and two died. Today, more than a million Americans have the virus.

Being diagnosed with HIV was once a death sentence. Now, a 20-year-old with HIV who begins treatment early can expect to live to their early 70s. The disease, which attacks the immune system, can be controlled by modern-day antiretroviral medications.

Around 1.1 million Americans have HIV. About 15 percent of people ages 13 and older with HIV don’t know they have it.

An estimated 39,782 Americans were newly diagnosed with HIV in 2016. In that same year, 18,160 individuals living with HIV developed stage 3 HIV, or AIDS. This is in striking contrast to the early days of HIV.

According to the American Federation of AIDS Research, by the end of 1992, 250,000 Americans had developed AIDS, and 200,000 of these had died. By 2004, the number of cases of AIDS reported in the United States closed in on 1 million, with deaths totaling more than 500,000.

According to the CDC, men who have sex with men made up almost 67 percent (39,782) of the 50,000 people who contracted HIV in the United States in 2016; of these, 26,570 contracted the virus specifically as the result of male-to-male sexual contact.

However, anyone who practices sex without a condom or shares needles can contract HIV. Among the 9,578 heterosexual people diagnosed in the United States in 2016, 2,049 men and 7,529 women contracted the virus. Overall, new diagnoses decreased.

When it comes to race, 17,528 of those diagnosed in the United States in 2016 were black, 10,345 were white, and 9,766 were Latino.

Americans in the 25 to 29 age range had the most diagnoses in that year: 7,964. Next highest were those ages 20 to 24 (6,776) and 30 to 34 (5,701).

In 2016, five states alone made up almost half of new diagnoses in the United States. These five states account for 19,994 of 39,782 new diagnoses, according to the CDC:

  • California
  • Florida
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Georgia reports that 36.7 million people worldwide are living with HIV, and 35 million have died since 1981. Additionally, the majority of people with HIV live in developing and moderate-income nations, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa.

The World Health Organization reports that access to care has increased between 2010 and 2012 in these areas. Still, people most at risk around the world don’t have access to treatment or prevention. Just over one-third of the 28.6 million people in developing and moderate-income countries who should be on antiretroviral medication are getting it.

It’s important for people — especially those who have a high risk of contracting HIV — to be tested frequently. Starting HIV treatment early is important for best outcomes. Approximately 44 percent of people ages 18 to 64 in the United States have reported receiving an HIV test. HIV education is mandatory in 34 states and in Washington, D.C.

From a public health perspective, preventing transmission of HIV is as important as treating those who have it. There has been remarkable progress in that regard. For example, modern-day antiretroviral therapy can reduce the chances of an HIV-positive person transmitting the virus by 100 percent, if the therapy is taken consistently to reduce virus to an undetectable level in the blood.

There has been a sharp decline in transmission rates in the United States since the mid-1980s. While men who have sex with men represent only 4 percent of the male population in this country, they comprise around 70 percent of those who newly contracted HIV.

Condom use remains an inexpensive, cost-effective first line of defense against HIV. A pill known as Truvada, or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), also offers protection. A person without HIV can protect themselves from contracting the virus by taking this once-a-day pill. When taken properly, PrEP can reduce the risk of transmission by more than 90 percent.

There is still no cure for HIV, and it can take a huge financial toll on those living with it. The United States is expected to spend more than $26 billion annually on HIV programs, including:

  • research
  • housing
  • treatment
  • prevention

Of that amount, $6.6 billion is for aid abroad. This expenditure represents less than 1 percent of the federal budget.

Not only are life-saving medications expensive, but large numbers of people in hard-hit countries with limited resources have died or are unable to work due to HIV. This has affected the development of these nations.

HIV affects people during their working years. Countries end up with lost productivity and, in many cases, a significant reduction in workforce. This all adds up to severe impacts on their national economies.

The average cost of treating a person with HIV over the course of their lifetime is $379,668. The CDC reports that prevention interventions can be cost-effective because of the medical expense that’s avoided when HIV isn’t transmitted as widely.

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