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Heterosexual AIDS a myth?

Feb 24, 1997

I have a question about heterosexual AIDS transmission... 1) back in 1982 at the outset of the disease, about 95% of cases were found in individuals falling into one of four risk groups (gay men, intrav. drug users, hemopheliacs, blood transfusions/prenatal transmission) --back then we were told that AIDS would spread to the heterosexual community like wildfire. now, in 1997, isn't it true that about 95% of cases are STILL confined to individuals falling into one of the high risk categories? I mean, reports keep saying that women are becoming infected in larger numbers, but EVERY study i've read in depth says these women are not catching AIDS from their male partners but from their increasing drug use. Further, every year the number of cases of STD rises in some cases dramatically. But why isn't AIDS spreading exponentially, like chlamydia, herpes, and other STDs? I mean, the CDC continually downsizes the estimated number of HIV infected individuals. If other STDs are spreading so quickly, then why isn't AIDS among them?

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question.

You bring up a number of issues here. First of all, remember that when we look at risk factors for AIDS cases, these statistics tell us how people were infected an average of 10 years ago. That's because the average amount of time from infection to a diagnosis of AIDS is 10 years. HIV data however tell us how people are becoming infected today, rather than 10 years ago. However, since HIV is not reportable in all states, we do not have good nationwide statistics as to the numbers of people infected with HIV, but do not yet have AIDS. When we look at AIDS statistics (not HIV), from 1981 to June 1996, 8% of all AIDS cases were acquired through heterosexual sex. For 1995 and 1996 alone, that number increased to 12% of all AIDS cases in those years. So the rate of new heterosexual cases is rising over the years. We can't say what the rate is today, since again, HIV is not reportable in all states. But over time, we are seeing a slow, but steady increase in the number of new heterosexual cases.

HIV/AIDS is not running rampant among the heterosexual community in the United States (although the rate is slowly increasing). The same cannot be said of AIDS cases worldwide. In most of the world, the majority of HIV/AIDS cases are transmitted through heterosexual sex. This is especially true in developing nations, where most of the worlds AIDS cases are located. In this part of the world, HIV/AIDS cases are increasing dramatically.

In the USA, we see about 12 million new cases of STD's every year. This number is also not rising dramatically over time. Both AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's) are generally remaining stable over the years, rather than spreading rampantly. At any one time, we estimate that there are between 650,000 to 900,000 cases of HIV in the USA. This number is believed to be remaining stable. This is because the number of new HIV cases is now approximately equal to the death rate due to AIDS. Rates for STD's are also relatively stable. This stabilizing of the numbers of HIV/STD cases is in part, due to education, and the availability of condoms. Unfortunately, overseas, the numbers of AIDS cases are increasing dramatically.

So although there has not been a dramatic increase in the numbers of AIDS cases among heterosexuals, there has been a slow but steady increase over the years. And remember, risk factors for AIDS patients tell us how people became infected an average of 10 years ago. HIV statistics tell us how people are becoming infected today. But since HIV is not a reportable condition in all states, our HIV data is quite limited. But the data that we do have does show a slow but steady increase in the numbers of heterosexual cases over the years.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).

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