7 Surprising Facts About HIV
Fri Dec 20 20:35:03 UTC 2013
In the early 1980s in the United States, doctors began reporting deaths from unusual infections in patients whose immune systems had mysteriously failed. The discovery of the virus behind this public health crisis didn't come until 1983, making HIV/AIDS a relatively new illness—and one you might not know as much about as you think.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) originated with simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIVs)—viruses in chimpanzees and monkeys. But how did the virus jump species? It's thought human hunters were the bridge. By eating the meat or coming into contact with the blood of monkeys and apes, hunters provided opportunities for SIV to enter the human body and mutate into a form that infects humans: HIV.
HIV may not cause symptoms for several years. You could be infected for more than a decade and feel fine. It's often not until HIV progresses to AIDS—acquired immune deficiency syndrome—and the immune system deteriorates that people struggle with symptoms, including diarrhea, cough, weight loss, fever, and neurological problems.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that of the 1.2 million people in the United States infected with HIV, 1 in 5 don't know they have the virus. Many healthcare practitioners don't routinely offer to screen their patients for HIV, going against CDC recommendations. But with the stigma of HIV still evident, it's also likely that people are in denial about their risk.
When HIV/AIDS was first discovered, it was largely considered a gay man's disease. While the majority of new HIV infections are in men who have sex with men (MSM), a quarter of the people infected in 2010 got the virus through heterosexual sex. Injected drug use also plays a big role in HIV transmission.
Most HIV infections in the United States are found in cities. The South and the Northeast are affected more strongly than other parts of the country. Africa still has the highest rate of HIV infection, but other parts of the world are seeing an uptick in infections, including regions of Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America.
Minorities account for the majority of new cases of HIV infection. Black Americans are hit harder by HIV than any other ethnic group. In 2010, the rate of estimated HIV infection in black Americans was almost eight times that of white Americans. What's behind the gap? A variety of factors, including poverty, high rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), the stigma of HIV and testing, and a tendency to have sex with members of the same race (in which HIV is prevalent), contribute to the high rate of HIV infection in the black community. Hispanics and American Indians are also overly affected by HIV/AIDS.
AIDS isn't behind us. With new treatments, many people are able to live a long life with HIV. But therapies can be very expensive, and many people do not have access to effective treatment. HIV/AIDS killed 1.6 million people around the world in 2011. In low-income countries, it is the second leading cause of death. The United States currently has about 1.2 million people with HIV and sees about 50,000 new cases each year.
Medically Reviewed By: Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH Last Annual Review Date: December 3, 2013
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