Voices from the AIDS Epidemic

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

State of Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, 1987.

State of Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, 1987.

Today, health care professionals can use multiple tests to detect HIV infection. Where available, drugs therapies allow people to live with HIV for many years before developing AIDS. Of course, this was not always the case. In commemoration of World AIDS Day on December 1, we are revisiting some of the voices published in the early years of the epidemic.

In 1982, 14 doctors presented their front-line experiences at an international symposium, the proceedings of which were published in book form the following year. Their frustration with their inability to successfully treat their young patients rings out clearly.

“Thirteen of 42 patients in our series have already died. Nationwide, half of the patients have died.” Half of their patients with “Pneumicystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) , the most common infection,” responded to the administered drug . “However, excluding three who are still being treated, only two patients who had PCP are presently alive, even though six recovered from their initial infection.” In the ten patients with Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection, eight died. “Only one, a 22-year-old man with CMV pneumonia, has recovered.” As the authors go on to say, “treatment remains a knotty problem.”

At another symposium, also published in book form, Dr. Kevin M. Cahill, the senior member of the New York City Board of Health, applauded the efforts of individual doctors and nurses, in addition to the “superb work” of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis.  But he chastised the inaction of the “organized medical community.”

“When a fatal infection had struck down veterans attending an American Legion convention, health professionals across the country joined in the search for a solution. When women using tampons became ill with toxic shock syndrome, medical societies and research centers immediately focused their enormous talents on that problem. But when the victims were drug addicts and poor Haitian refugees and homosexual men, their plight did not, somehow, seem as significant to those expected to speak for the health professions. No major research programs were announced, and until it became clear that the disease could spread to the general population through blood transfusions, organized medicine seemed part of the conspiracy of silence.”

Where are we today? Even with so much knowledge about prevention, the CDC estimates that 50,000 people in the United States become newly infected with HIV each year; about 33,000 people receive AIDS diagnoses. In the United States, HIV incidence in people aged 13-29 rose 21 percent between 2006 and 2009.

Prevention education remains essential. Visit the CDC’s Act Against AIDS page or World AIDS Day’s website to find out more about current prevention and testing measures.

For a year-by-year timeline of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States, visit AIDS.gov.

Cahill, K. M. (1983). The AIDS epidemic.  New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Basic Statistics. Retrieved November 28, 2012, from http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/surveillance/basic.htm

Gold, J. W. M., Armstrong, D., Sears, C. L., Henry, S., Donnelly, H., Brown, A. E., …Wong, B.(1983). Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome: Infection and Neoplasia in Homosexual Men and Intravenous Drug Addicts. In C. S. F. Easmon & H. Gaya (Eds.), Second international symposium on infections in the immunocompromised host (pp. 105–113). London: Academic Press.

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