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Is AIDS Our Biggest Health Threat?

May 11, 2007

In 1998, deaths in Americans with AIDS reached 410,800. This is the total for the entire time known as the AIDS epidemic, a period which spans nearly two decades. Included in this total are deaths from any cause at all -- accidents, noncontagious illnesses, drug side effects, etc. -- in people diagnosed with AIDS. Without dismissing AIDS deaths or the profound suffering of AIDS patients and their loved ones, it is important to give this total some comparative perspective: Over 400,000 Americans die each year of cancer, and there are more than 700,000 annual deaths in this country from cardiovascular disease. During the period known as the AIDS epidemic, 14 million people died of heart disease -- 13.5 million more than have ever died of AIDS -- while 9 million succumbed to cancer, which is 8.5 million more than those counted for AIDS. >From 1981 to 1998, car accidents killed over 800,000 Americans -- almost twice as many as have ever died of AIDS. Suicides during the AIDS epidemic surpass AIDS fatalities by more than 100,000. Loss of life from adverse reactions to properly prescribed and correctly taken pharmaceuticals outnumber AIDS deaths in America by more than 1.3 million.

Although most people associate the word "epidemic" with AIDS, one of the last truly devastating outbreaks in history, the flu of 1918, took the lives of 20 million people worldwide in a single year. After almost 20 years, diagnosed cases of AIDS throughout the world total less than 2 million, and included among these are many people who remain alive and well.

So why do we think of enormous numbers whenever we think of AIDS? Unlike cancer and most other conditions, AIDS reports typically use cumulative totals. In other words, a current year's cases or fatalities are added to the sum total of all AIDS diagnoses or deaths that have ever occurred, automatically creating a larger figure and the impression that AIDS constantly rises.

Also, estimates and projections are frequently used in place of actual AIDS numbers. For example, the 1999 United Nations AIDS Report estimates that 2.5 million people throughout the world died of AIDS in 1998 while the November 1999 World Health Organization (WHO) Weekly Epidemiological Record reports that only 2.2 million people worldwide have ever received a diagnosis of AIDS. The UN estimate is widely promoted while the actual WHO case count is rarely publicized.

A little reported fact is that AIDS is not among the ten leading causes of deaths for Americans. In annual death rates, AIDS lags behind motor vehicle accidents, non-vehicular accidents and adverse events, flu and pneumonia, diabetes, septicemia, Alzheimer's disease, and homicide. It is often reported that AIDS is the leading cause of death among Americans aged 25 to 44. This statement inspires great fear and concern until carefully examined. Only two-tenths of one percent (0.2%) of persons in this age group die of any cause each year, and among these, deaths from AIDS represent about three one-hundredths of one percent (0.03%). However, since AIDS constitutes the leading category for fatalities at about 15% (85% of people within this age range die of other causes), it is possible to call AIDS the leading killer. Portraying AIDS as our biggest health threat gives AIDS funding priority over problems that affect far greater numbers of Americans. According to findings by the Institute of Medicine, NIH research expenditures in 1996 averaged $1,160 for every American who died of heart disease, $4,700 for each one who died of cancer, and more than $43,000 for every death in a person diagnosed with AIDS.

Response from Dr. Frascino

Hello, Dude, it's 2007. One wonders why you are quoting statistics from 1998. Aside from the fact your statistics are blatantly wrong, they are also so-last-century!

A few quick points:

1. HIV/AIDS is a global pandemic and can not be viewed solely as an American problem.

2. Where did you find such outlandish and inaccurate figures? The Journal of Irreproducible Results? Take, for instance, your statement "After almost 20 years, diagnosed cases of AIDS throughout the world total less than 2 million, and included among these are many people who remain alive and well"!!!! WHAT?????? You should know better than to believe anything you heard on Fox News! This statement is so off base and wrong it could be a Bill O'Reilly talking point! Let me provide you with some more accurate statistics. Over 65 million people have contracted HIV worldwide and over 25 million have had their lives prematurely snuffed out by this virus. Five million people were infected with HIV just last year. (In the United States a new HIV infection occurs every 13 minutes.)

3. No one is saying cancer and heart disease are not critically important health care issues. Why is HIV/AIDS different? Well, think of it this way. Teenagers who think they are in love don't give each other cancer or heart disease.

My advice is that you get a hold of the PBS/Frontline documentary "The Age of AIDS." (You can Netflix it!) It chronicles the first 25 years of the pandemic. Come back after you've done your homework!

Dr. Bob

Can you explain why?

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