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Some Good News About the Fight Against HIV and AIDS

Lee Hickling
drkoop.com Health News

Around the world, hundreds of research projects are underway to find a cure for AIDS and a vaccine against HIV infection. One vaccine is being tested now, and several others will go into trials soon. The most optimistic experts in the field say it will be seven years before a vaccine is ready for general use. The less optimistic say it will be 10 years or more.

No one is making predictions about when, if ever, a cure for AIDS might be found.

But there are two solid pieces of good news in the field. The spread of HIV infection could be almost completely halted by simple, commonsense methods. And there are dozens of medications now available that can delay the progress of an HIV infection for many years, perhaps even long enough to keep some HIV patients alive until a cure might be found.

The way to prevent HIV transmission during sexual acts is simple: Always use latex condoms when you have vaginal, anal or oral intercourse.

The virus can be transmitted from an expectant HIV-infected woman to her unborn baby. Because the early stages of the infection may cause few or no symptoms, it is quite possible for a woman to not know she is infected. HIV/AIDS experts say every pregnant woman should get an HIV test. If she is infected, the drug AZT can provide a high degree of protection for the fetus she is carrying.

Blood banks now are extremely careful about accepting donations from untested persons. Someone who knows he or she is HIV-positive should never try to donate blood.

Someone who learns that she or he is HIV-positive should tell all past sexual partners if possible, so they can get tested and if necessary begin the available life-prolonging treatments.

The death rate from AIDS has been declining, thanks to the new treatments, but the rate of new HIV infections has not declined. The main reason is believed to be that the simple information in the preceding four paragraphs is not reaching many people who are most at risk.

When the AIDS-causing virus first appeared in the United States in the late 1970s, it was almost entirely confined to two subgroups: homosexual men and intravenous drug users. That is no longer true. There are serious problems with the completeness and accuracy of data reported to public health agencies, but even so it appears that the infection rate is increasing greatly among heterosexual women, and more for black and Hispanic women than for whites.

The reason the Centers for Disease Control and the National Association of People with Aids are publicizing National HIV Testing Day on June 27 is that massive educational programs about prevention and testing are seen as the only way to stem the spread of infection, particularly among those subpopulations most at risk.

[Medical Dictionary][Viral Infection]

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