Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

A disease caused by a retrovirus that mutates so rapidly that the B-lymphocytes and the body’s natural antibodies cannot fight it off.

The introduction of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) in the United States occurred primarily in the homosexual and bisexual community. First diagnosed as a disease in 1981, it results in the vulnerability of the human body to disease and malignancies. As AIDS spread to include hemophiliacs and individuals who required blood transfusions, the public pressured the federal government for research funding. Symptoms appear initially like the flu but gradually develop into anxiety, weight loss, diarrhea, fatigue, shingles, and memory loss. Transmission of the disease occurs through the exchange of body fluids such as breast milk, semen, or vaginal secretions or through the exchange of blood and blood products. Kissing and the exchange of saliva do not appear to transmit the disease nor do urine, feces, or sweat.

The primarily economic implications of the disease include the increased health care cost associated with the care of AIDS patients as well as their medical treatments. As of 2002, physicians rely on three drugs—AZT (also known as Retrovir or Zidovudine), ddl (Videx® EC brand didanesine [delayed-release capsules]), and 3TC (Epivir® brand Iamivadine)—to delay the spread of symptoms in patients. In addition, another 30 alternative treatments are being tested. The enormous cost associated with the development of a cure for the disease has taxed the economic resources of private foundations established for that sole purpose as well as the federal government.

In the United States alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 850,000 to 950,000 Americans are infected by the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. HIV attacks the immune system cells. All individuals with AIDS have HIV, but not all people with HIV have AIDS. AIDS is a fatal disease caused by a rapidly mutating retrovirus that leaves the victim susceptible to infections, malignancies, and neurological disorders. Every year another 40,000 cases are reported. During the 1980s, a massive public awareness program resulted in a decline in new cases from 60,805 in 1996 to 40,766 in 2000. The majority of the new cases have occurred in the African American community—half of new cases among men and 65 percent of new cases among women occur among this group. As of the end of 2001, the CDC reported more than 467,910 deaths from the disease.

As a result of the continuing crisis, the federal government has appropriated millions of dollars for research. For the fiscal year 1999, Congress approved $110 million just for the African American community. The total figure for research, treatment, prevention, and educational programs amounted to $4.87 billion. During the last year of the Clinton administration that figure declined, but the incoming administration of George W. Bush increased the budget for AIDS once again.

Next post:

Previous post: