The number of AIDS deaths in the United States dropped 44 percent in the first half of 1997 compared with the same period in 1996.
According to the newest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released here Monday, the number of new AIDS cases dropped 12 percent during the same period, although the number of people living with AIDS rose 12 percent to 259,000.
The improvements in statistics for both deaths and severe illness are due to new forms of therapy, particularly the advent of protease inhibitors about three years ago.
“We are at a very special moment in the epidemic of HIV/ AIDS,” epidemiologist Dr. Kevin DeCock of the CDC told the 5th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections.
But access to the expensive treatment - or lack of it - is creating a distinct class system. “This is now a disease that very disproportionately affects the most disadvantaged populations,” DeCock said.
This marks the second straight year of decline in AIDS deaths, but the latest drop is much steeper. The CDC reported 21,460 AIDS deaths in the first six months of 1996, a 14 percent decline from the previous year and the first decrease since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s. In the first six months of 1997, there were 12,040 deaths.
The number of new AIDS cases dropped 9 percent from 1995 to 1996 and 12 percent to 29,520 in the first six months of 1997.
DeCock cautioned that the drop in AIDS cases and deaths does not mean that the AIDS problem is winding down. Between 35,000 and 40,000 people are newly infected with HIV each year, he said. The CDC estimates the number of Americans who are HIV-positive is between 400,000 and 650,000.