On June 5, 1981, the Centers for Disease Control reported a cluster of a rare form of pneumonia in five gay men in Los Angeles. Soon, doctors were noticing more people – homosexual men, hemophiliacs, heroin users and Haitians (called “the 4Hs”) – developing this disease as well as other rare diseases such as the blood cancer Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS), with an extremely high fatality rate. In July 1982 the acronym AIDS (Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome) was introduced. A year later, French and American researchers working separately identified the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) as the root cause of AIDS. It wasn’t until 1987 that AZT, the first drug capable of slowing the disease’s progress, was discovered and approved for use.

Today there is still no cure for the disease. HIV/AIDS is considered a world pandemic. More than 33 million people (0.6% of the world population) are infected, the vast majority in sub-Saharan Africa. 25 million people are estimated to have died from the disease, with an additional 2 million dying every year. In the U.S., more than 18,000 people with AIDS die each year: gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men represent the majority of deaths. Pennsylvania ranked 8th out of 50 states in the total number of AIDS diagnoses in 2008.  The rate of HIV infection in Philadelphia is five times the national average.

(Pennsylvania and Philadelphia information courtesy of the Mazzoni Center.)

Photo: AIDS virus attacking cell




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