AIDS in the United States


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AIDS in the United States

For an epidemic that has exploded around the world and is claiming thousands of lives everyday, AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) surfaced very quietly in the United States. On June 4, 1981, a weekly newsletter published by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta reported five unusual cases of pneumonia that had been diagnosed in Los Angeles residents over the previous few months. All the patients were homosexual males who had come down with Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, a rare lung infection usually found only in severely malnourished individuals that had been undergoing intensive chemotherapy. Before getting ill, all five men were well nourished and considered to be very healthy with strong immune systems (Odets, 20-23).
Within the year, similar cases were reported from all over the country. Adults that seemed perfectly healthy were suddenly coming down with rare infections and malignancies. Most cases were reported in New York City, California, Florida and Texas, but unlike the men in the Los Angeles cases, not all were homosexual males. Many were people who used intravenous drugs, men with hemophilia, and immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean. All of these people had one thing in common: they had a major absence in the number of white blood cells in their bodies (Odets, 67). These cells, commonly referred to as “t-cells” help keep the immune system functioning properly. Because of the lack of t-cells, the patient’s immune systems became very weak which left them vulnerable to one health problem after another. It was not until 1984 that it
was concluded that the human immunodeficiency virus, commonly referred to as HIV, was to blame for this mysterious syndrome. Many people use the terms HIV and AIDS interchangeably which is not exactly accurate. AIDS is defined as the most advanced stages of HIV infection (Russel, 86).
It was discovered in the mid-eighties that HIV can be transmitted from one person to another through sexual contact, contact with infected blood or from mother to baby in breast milk. It then settles into the t-cells of the body and progressively destroys them. In 1985 a major study was done so that scientists could get a better idea of the structure of the virus and the exact effects it would have on infected individuals. The news was not good. Scientists found that the virus was shaped like an iceberg, with a small visible tip and a huge unseen base.

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This meant that for every person who was in the stages of full-blown AIDS, there were probably thousands of others who were infected with HIV and still entirely healthy.
According to Everything You’d Better Know About AIDS and HIV, there were 90,000 cases of AIDS reported in 1988 and over 50,000 more had died from the illness, but public health officials estimated that over a million people might be infected without even knowing it. These numbers proved to be fairly accurate. More than 700,000 cases of AIDS have been reported in the United States since 1988, and 900,000 more Americans are infected with HIV (Kashif, 49, 63-65).
As the epidemic started to come more and more into public view, many people had the misconception that only homosexuals and bisexuals could be infected with HIV (Odets, 85). Today people have finally realized that the virus is not prejudice at all. No matter what sexual preference, gender, race, nationality, or social class you are, you are still at risk. When
basketball superstar Magic Johnson announced in 1991 that he had gotten the HIV virus, the feeling spread quick that anyone, not just selected groups of people, could be at risk.
It was obvious that cure needed to be found for this epidemic that was killing hundreds of thousands of people every year in America alone and millions more worldwide. When AIDS first surfaced in the United States, no medicines were available to fight the immune deficiency caused by the destruction of t-cells and few treatments existed for the diseases that resulted. Over the
past 10 years, however, researchers have developed new drugs to fight both HIV infection and its infections and cancers that are often associated .
The Food and Drug Administration has now approved a number of drugs for treating HIV infection. The first group of drugs used to treat HIV infection, called nucleoside reverse transcriptase (RT) inhibitors, interrupts an early stage of the virus making copies of itself. Included in this class of drugs is AZT. AZT was released for widespread use in 1987 and was not found to be very successful in treating patients that were already infected with the virus but was remarkably effective in keeping it from passing from mother to baby. (Odets, 125)
More recently, a second class of drugs has been approved for treating HIV infection. These drugs, called protease inhibitors, interrupt virus replication at a later step in its life cycle. They include ritonavir (Norvir), saquinivir (Invirase). Because HIV can become resistant to both classes of drugs, a combination treatment using both is often necessary to effectively suppress the virus. Patients are given what is known as a “cocktail” of many different drugs which requires them to take dozens of pills a day at precisely timed intervals (Wadhams, 119). Unfortunately, HIV is a disease that has thousands of different strains and mutations and can quickly develop immunity to different drugs, so the medication must be changed regularly to ensure that it is actually helping the patient. Paul Verna states, “Even though these cocktails can have serious side effects, they are frequently a patient’s only hope for survival” (61).
Although major medical advances have been made towards a cure for this terrible disease, the numbers of people infected each year are astounding. At the end of 1999 6.4 million Americans had died from AIDS, and 1.8 million of those were children under the age of 15 (Wadhams, 237). AIDS is not a small or quiet problem anymore. What started out as five men with an unusual case of pneumonia has led to millions of deaths in just over twenty years.


Bibliography:
Russel, Charles H. AIDS in America. Springer Verlag, San Rafael, CA, 1996.

Kashif. Everything You’d Better Know About AIDS and HIV. Brooklyn Boy Books, Venice, CA, 1999.

Odets Walt. In the Shadow of the Epidemic. Duke University Press, Durham, NC 1998.

Wadhams, Wayne. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Schirmer Books, London, England, 2000.

Verna, Paul. “The Epidemic Continues,” Time, January 30, 1999 v.111 i5 pg. 58-63 (1)

http://www.geocities.com/HotSprings/6157/AIDS.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/aids/aids1.htm


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