For decades now, HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, has been a serious medical threat.
Most of those infected with the virus live in the developing world, but developed countries still carry a fair share of the burden.
Globally, over 35 million people are infected. In the United States, it is believed that 1.2 million people are suffering from the disease, and 14% of them do not know it.
This article looks at the reasons behind recent statistics, which seem to indicate a decline in the rate of HIV infections in the country.
Is HIV on the retreat in America?
Studies show that over the last decade, HIV infections have dropped by a third.
In 2002, out of every 100,000 people in the country, 24 were freshly infected. By 2011, the number had declined to 16 out of every 100,000 persons.
This happened partly because the number of people who agree to HIV testing has steadily increased: in 2005, only 37% of all adults had ever been tested for HIV, a number that has been increasing steadily. The current figure is slightly over 50%.
The rate of new infections is declining, as well. According to CDC statistics, typically about 50,000 people are infected every year. However, since 2010, that number has declined to 47,500.
A deeper look at the statistics shows an interesting skew.
The rate of infection has declined in almost all groups, with the largest beneficiaries being white, black, Hispanic, males, females , drug users, heterosexuals and people of all age groups.
The only group in which infection rates have increased are men who have sex with other men (MSM) – who are either gay or in bisexual relationships.
Why the drop?
Health practitioners see the drop in prevalence as a bit of a ‘ceiling’ effect, and have hailed the retreat of HIV in the country.
However, there are solid reasons why the HIV threat is on the decline in America.
Widespread HIV Testing
The first and perhaps most important reason for HIV’s decline is widespread testing for HIV.
There have been sustained calls in the years for a change in approach towards the control of the disease. In 2006, the Center for Disease Control suggested that the government make HIV test a routine activity for those between the ages of 13 and 64.
These efforts have paid off. Today, one in every two Americans has had an HIV test. Regular testing helps to manage the disease and to avoid situations in which people infect others unwillingly.
Currently, there are several ways to get an HIV Test, including cheap at-home HIV test kits, online anonymous STD tests and Free test clinics.
The level of health education in the country has also increased significantly. Pre-teens and octogenarians have a solid concept of what HIV is and what its effects are.
Better Medical Practices
Finally, the medical front has developed consistently over time, with clinics adopting better practices to shield patients from infections.
These include proper sterilization of devices used in treatment as well as the rise of technology that helps avoid transfer of the virus via blood pathways, for example from mothers to children and through blood donations and transfusions.
More Powerful Drugs and Treatments
Although there is no current vaccine for HIV, there are treatments available that slow down the rate of infection and the progress of the disease, once infected.
In addition, powerful drugs for those infected have come to the fore. Several classes of drugs have been developed and perfected during the past 30 years, including Protease Inhibitors (PIs), Nucleoside/Nucleotide Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTIs) and Entry Inhibitors.
The Prognosis Is Good
New drugs, better habits and a good diet ensure that the average American can still live up to over 60 if diagnosis occurs in the early 20’s. In the 1980s, most AIDS sufferers expected to only live another 5 years.
These statistics present a good reason for relief, but it is important to understand that over 70% of new infections occur in developing countries, where new strains could be developing and spreading.
This is why HIV test and control measures remain centrally critical to the fight against AIDS.