New therapies result in decreased death rate

The number of AIDS cases in the United States dropped 19% from January through September last year, reflecting the success of new antiretroviral therapies in increasing survival, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

The reduction confirms a 13% decrease in AIDS deaths reported earlier this year, which marked the first time AIDS cases had decreased. The number of deaths stood at 30,700 for the period from January through September 1996, compared to 37,900 the prior year.

"The decline in deaths likely reflects the impact of new combination therapies in lengthening the healthy life span of infected individuals and the slowing of the epidemic overall," reported Helene Gayle, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for HIV/AIDS, STD, and TB Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 1995, the increase in AIDS slowed to only 2%, she noted. With continued improvements, the CDC expects to soon see the first measurable declines in AIDS incidence, as well.

At the same time, Gayle warned that at least 40,000 new infections occur each year in the country, and AIDS cases are increasing most rapidly among women, particularly minorities. AIDS incidence in women now outpaces men, and heterosexual transmission is the fastest-growing mode of transmission, she added.

AIDS Action Council, which hosted the AIDS forum in July at which Gayle spoke, expressed concern about the imbalance in survival rates among populations. "The fact remains that there is not equal access to the continuum of care people with HIV/AIDS require to stay alive and healthy," said Daniel Zingale, executive director of AIDS Action Council in Washington, DC.

The CDC reported that the decline in AIDS deaths was about half the rate for African-Americans and Latinos compared to whites.

Gayle also noted troubling trends among young and minority gay men. Recent studies show that 5% to 9% of young gay and bisexual men ages 15-22 may be infected in many areas.