Thankfully, AIDS in the 21st century is nothing like it was in the decade that preceded it, but it is still a horrible disease that affects approximately 1.1 million people. In fact, in the year 2015 alone, 18,303 people received an AIDS diagnosis. The good news is that research is coming closer than ever to finding a cure.
Timing is everything
For Gen Xers, millennials, and the generations that follow, AIDS looks completely different than it did to those who were full-blown adults in the mid-80s. Case in point: If you were diagnosed in 1985, you almost certainly died, but if you were diagnosed in 1995, you may very well still be alive. “This is because it took eight years from the identification of the virus for the first drug (AZT) to be approved, which was 1989,” says Josh Bloom, PhD, director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences for the American Council on Science and Health. But, as he points out, in the grand scheme of things, AZT didn’t work out. “It would be another six years until Inverase, which was discovered at Roche, became the first useful drug to be approved in 1995,” says Dr. Bloom. It’s no coincidence that the death rate from AIDS decreased for the first time ever after that fateful year.
The population of people living with HIV is aging
As people living with HIV are living longer, thanks to highly effective antiretroviral treatment, the overall population of persons living with the condition is aging. In 2014, for example, an estimated 45 percent of Americans living with diagnosed HIV were aged 50 and older, 27 percent were aged 55 and older and 6 percent were aged 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In a few years, it’s estimated that more than half of all people living with HIV will be over 50 years of age. “Older people in the United States are more likely than younger people to present with more advanced HIV infection at the time of diagnosis,” says Carlos Malvestutto, MD, MPH, from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center Division of Infectious Diseases. “Also, older people may not consider themselves to be at risk of HIV infection or may mistake HIV symptoms for those of normal aging.” Still, due to the fact that many older people are sexually active, and may lack knowledge about HIV prevention, Dr. Malvestutto stresses the importance of making HIV testing widely available to all regardless of age and the need for primary care providers to have an open discussion with their older patients about sexual practices and risk behaviors. Here are more sexual health conditions men need to talk about with their doctors.
Still, 15 percent of U.S. citizens affected with HIV do not know their status
Although the percentage of Americans who are aware of their HIV status is increasing steadily, approximately one in seven, or about 15 percent, of those living with HIV do not know it, according to the CDC. “HIV testing has become very sensitive, and rapid tests, which provide results in about 40 minutes, can detect HIV infection that was acquired very recently,” says Dr. Malvestutto. “Still, although CDC guidelines recommend HIV testing for everyone between the ages of 13 and 64, too many people who have HIV do not become aware of their diagnosis until the disease is advanced.” This is why he says it is so important to promote and normalize HIV testing for everyone—so that all patients can be diagnosed and started on HIV treatment as soon as possible.