March 12, 2009
Robust HIV/AIDS treatment options mean "some people in my country, France, and other Western countries have become complacent -- they see HIV/AIDS as a chronic disease -- not as one that can kill," Francoise Barre-Sinoussi said on the sidelines of recent medical conference in New Delhi. That false sense of security has led in part to the "frightening" rate of new HIV infections among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Western nations, said Barre-Sinoussi, a co-discoverer of HIV as the virus that causes AIDS.
Between 2001 and 2006, male-to-male sex represented the largest transmission category in the United States, and the sole category for which diagnoses increased, according to CDC. Gay and bisexual men accounted for 53 percent all new infections in 2006, CDC said.
"We should tell the truth about HIV/AIDS, that new treatments can be very effective, helping them live years longer," said Barre-Sinoussi, who shared the 2008 Nobel Prize for Medicine with Dr. Luc Montagnier for their 1983 identification of HIV. However, HIV/AIDS patients are also prone to other illnesses, particularly cancers, and patients can become resistant to the antiretroviral drugs, causing "major complications," she said.
In the 1980s, gay community leaders mounted grassroots HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns, and infections among MSM fell dramatically for a decade. But with advances in treatment, "the voices that spoke for safe sex are often silent" said Professor Mark Wainberg, head of Montreal's McGill University AIDS Center. But the drugs themselves can be toxic and data show alarming rates of cancer among those with HIV, Wainberg said.
"The data from our studies indicate the average age of people getting HIV/AIDS is 35 -- these are mature individuals, not kids," Wainberg said. "Some people are throwing caution to the wind."