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HIV/AIDS in the United States

The epidemic of the immunodeficiency disease AIDS, which began in Sub-Saharan Africa in the 1930s as a mutation of the chimpanzee disease SIV (Simian Immunodeficiency Virus), which was named Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), found its way to the shores of the United States as early as 1960, but was first noticed after doctors discovered clusters of Kaposi's sarcoma and pneumocystis pneumonia in young gay men in Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco in 1981. This strain was called HIV-1. A second strain, called HIV-2 was discovered; it is presumed to have mutated from SIVsmm, a strain of the Simian virus present naturally in the sooty mangabey, a monkey found primarily along the African coast from Senegal to Ghana. HIV-2 is common in West Africa, but is much rarer in the United States than HIV-1, which is more virulent and progresses more quickly to AIDS.[1]

Originally the disease was called GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency), but by 1982, after scientific discovery that the disease was also transmitted by other means, plus political pressure from those who felt the name unfairly stigmatized homosexuals, the designation was officially changed to AIDS, for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, by the CDC in 1982.

Treatment of HIV/AIDS is primarily a "drug cocktail" of protease inhibitors, and education programs help people avoid infection. For the first few decades, infected foreign nationals were turned back at the U.S. border to help prevent additional infections. The number of U.S. deaths from AIDS have declined sharply since the early years of the disease's presentation domestically. In the United States, 1.2 million people live with an HIV infection, about 1/8th of whom are unaware of their infection.[2]


Mortality and morbidityEdit

As of 2016, about 675,000 people have died of HIV/AIDS in the USA since the beginning of the HIV epidemic.[3]

With improved treatments and better prophylaxis against opportunistic infections, death rates have significantly declined.[4]

The overall death rate among persons diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in New York City decreased by 62% from 2001 to 2012.


Medical treatmentEdit

Chart of AIDS deaths in the United States from 1987 to 1997
Chart of AIDS deaths in the United States from 1998 to 2002

Great progress was made in the U.S. following the introduction of three-drug anti-HIV treatments ("cocktails") that included protease inhibitors. David Ho, a pioneer of this approach, was honored as Time Magazine Man of the Year for 1996. Deaths were rapidly reduced by more than half, with a small but welcome reduction in the yearly rate of new HIV infections. Since this time, AIDS deaths have continued to decline, but much more slowly, and not as completely in black Americans as in other population segments.[5][6]

Travel restrictionsEdit

The second prong of the American approach to containment has been to maintain strict entry controls to the country for people with HIV or AIDS. Under legislation enacted by the United States Congress in 1993, patients found importing anti-HIV medication into the country were arrested and placed on flights back to their country of origin.[citation needed]

Some HIV-positive travellers took to sending anti-HIV medication through the post to friends or contacts in advocacy groups in advance. This meant that the traveller would not be discovered with any medication. However, the security clampdown following the September 11 attacks in 2001 meant this was no longer an option.[citation needed]

The only legal alternative to this[clarification needed] was to apply for a special visa beforehand, which entailed an interview at an American Embassy, confiscation of the passport during the lengthy application process, and then, if permission were granted, a permanent attachment being made to the applicant's passport.[citation needed]

This process was condemned as intrusive and invasive by a number of advocacy groups, on the grounds that any time the passport was later used for travel elsewhere or for identification purposes, the holder's HIV status would become known. It was also felt that this rule was unfair because it applied even if the traveller was covered for HIV-related conditions under their own travel insurance.

In early December 2006, President George W. Bush indicated that he would issue an executive order allowing HIV-positive people to enter the United States on standard visas. It is unclear whether applicants will still have to declare their HIV status.[7] However, the ban remained in effect throughout Bush's Presidency. In August 2007, Congressperson Barbara Lee of California introduced H.R. 3337, the HIV Nondiscrimination in Travel and Immigration Act of 2007. This bill would allow travelers and immigrants entry to the United States without having to disclose their HIV status. The bill died at the end of the 110th Congress. In July 2008, then President George W. Bush signed H.R. 5501 that lifted the ban in statutory law. However, the United States Department of Health and Human Services still held the ban in administrative (written regulation) law. New impetus was added to repeal efforts when Paul Thorn, a UK tuberculosis expert who was invited to speak at the 2009 Pacific Health Summit in Seattle, was denied a visa due to his HIV positive status. A letter written by Mr. Thorn, and read in his place at the Summit, was attained by Congressman Jim McDermott, who advocated the issue to the Obama administration's Health Secretary.[8]

On October 30, 2009 President Barack Obama reauthorized the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Bill which expanded care and treatment through federal funding to nearly half a million.[9] He also announced that the Department of Health and Human Services crafted regulation that would end the HIV Travel and Immigration Ban effective in January 2010;[9] on January 4, 2010, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention removed HIV infection from the list of "communicable diseases of public health significance," due to it not being spread by casual contact, or by air, food or water, and removed HIV status as a factor to be considered in the granting of travel visas, disallowing HIV status from among the diseases that could prevent people who are not U.S. citizens from entering the country.[10]

Public perceptionEdit

One of the best known works on the history of HIV is 1987's book And the Band Played On, by Randy Shilts. Shilts contends that Ronald Reagan's administration dragged its feet in dealing with the crisis due to homophobia, while the gay community viewed early reports and public health measures with corresponding distrust, thus allowing the disease to infect hundreds of thousands more. This resulted in the formation of ACT-UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power by Larry Kramer. Galvanized by the federal government's inactivity, the movement by AIDS activists to gain funding for AIDS research, which on a per-patient basis out-paced funding for more prevalent diseases such as cancer and heart disease, was used as a model for future lobbying for health research funding.[11]

The Shilts work popularized the misconception that the disease was introduced by a gay flight attendant named Gaëtan Dugas, referred to as "Patient Zero," although the author did not actually make this claim in the book. However, subsequent research has revealed that there were cases of AIDS much earlier than initially known. HIV-infected blood samples have been found from as early as 1959 in Africa (see HIV main entry), and HIV has been shown to have caused the death of Robert Rayford, a 16-year-old St. Louis male, in 1969, who could have contracted it as early as 7 years old due to sexual abuse, suggesting that HIV had been present, at very low prevalence, in the US since before the 1970s.

An early theory asserted that a series of inoculations against hepatitis B that were performed in the gay community of San Francisco were tainted with HIV. Although there was a high correlation between recipients of that vaccination and initial cases of AIDS, this theory has long been discredited. HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are bloodborne diseases with very similar modes of transmission, and those at risk for one are at risk for the others.[12]

Activists and critics of current AIDS policies allege that another preventable impediment to stemming the spread of the disease and/or finding a treatment was the vanity of "celebrity" scientists. Robert Gallo, an American scientist involved in the search for a new virus in the people affected by the disease, became embroiled in a legal battle with French scientist Luc Montagnier, who had first discovered such a virus in tissue cultures derived from a patient suffering from enlargement of the lymphnodes (an early sign of AIDS); Montagnier had named the new virus LAV (Lymphoadenopathy-Associated Virus). Gallo, who appeared to question the primacy of the French scientist's discovery, refused to recognize the "French virus" as the cause of AIDS, and tried instead to claim the disease was caused by a new member of a retrovirus family, HTLV, which he had discovered. Critics claim that because some scientists were more interested in trying to win a Nobel prize than in helping patients, research progress was delayed and more people needlessly died. After a number of meetings and high-level political intervention, the French scientists and Gallo agreed to "share" the discovery of HIV, although eventually Montagnier and his group were recognized as the true discoverers, and won the 2008 Nobel Prize for it.

Publicity campaigns were started in attempts to counter the incorrect and often vitriolic perception of AIDS as a "gay plague". These included the Ryan White case, red ribbon campaigns, celebrity dinners, the 1993 film version of And the Band Played On, sex education programs in schools, and television advertisements. Announcements by various celebrities that they had contracted HIV (including actor Rock Hudson, basketball star Magic Johnson, tennis player Arthur Ashe and singer Freddie Mercury) were significant in arousing media attention and making the general public aware of the dangers of the disease to people of all sexual orientations.[citation needed]

By race/ethnicityEdit

Blacks/African Americans continue to experience the most severe burden of HIV, compared with other races and ethnicities. Blacks represent approximately 12% of the U.S. population, but accounted for an estimated 44% of new HIV infections in 2010. They also accounted for 41% of people living with HIV infection in 2011. Since the epidemic began, an estimated 270,726 blacks with AIDS have died, including an estimated 6,540 in 2012.[2]

Hispanics/Latinos are also disproportionately affected by HIV. Hispanics/Latinos represented 16% of the population but accounted for 21% of new HIV infections in 2010. Hispanics/Latinos accounted for 20% of people living with HIV infection in 2011. Disparities persist in the estimated rate of new HIV infections in Hispanics/Latinos. In 2010, the rate of new HIV infections for Latino males was 2.9 times that for white males, and the rate of new infections for Latinas was 4.2 times that for white females. Since the epidemic began, more than 100,888 Hispanics/Latinos with an AIDS diagnosis have died, including 2,155 in 2012.[2]

Activism and responseEdit

Starting in the early 1980s, AIDS activist groups and organizations began to emerge and advocate for people infected with HIV in the United States. Though it was an important aspect of the movement, activism went beyond the pursuit of funding for AIDS research. Groups acted to educate and raise awareness of the disease and its effects on different populations, even those thought to be at low-risk of contracting HIV. This was done through publications and “alternative media” created by those living with or close to the disease[13]. They worked to prevent spread of HIV by distributing information about safe sex. They also existed to support people living with HIV/AIDS, offering therapy, support groups, and hospice care[14]. Organizations like Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the Lesbian AIDS Project, and SisterLove were created to address the needs of certain populations living with HIV/AIDS. Other groups, like the NAMES Project, emerged as a way of memorializing those who had passed, refusing to let them be forgotten by the historical narrative.

Both men and women, heterosexual and queer populations were active in establishing and maintaining these parts of the movement. Because AIDS was initially thought only to impact gay men, most narratives of activism focus on their contributions to the movement. However, women also played a significant role in raising awareness, rallying for change, and caring for those impacted by the disease. Lesbians helped organize and spread information about transmission between women, as well as supporting gay men in their work. Narratives of activism also tend to focus on organizing done in coastal cities, but AIDS activism was present and widespread across both urban and more rural areas of the United States. Organizers sought to address needs specific to their communities, whether that was working to establish needle exchange programs, fighting against housing or employment discrimination, or issues faced primarily by people identified as members of specific groups (such as sex workers, mothers and children, or incarcerated people).

Present day activismEdit

An effective response to HIV/AIDS requires that groups of vulnerable populations have access to HIV prevention programs with information and services that are specific to them[15]. In the present day, some activist groups and AIDS organizations that were established during the height of the epidemic are still present and working to assist people living with AIDS[14]. They may offer any combination of the following: health education, counseling and support, or advocacy for law and policy. AIDS organizations also continue to call for public awareness and support through participation in events like pride parades, World AIDS Day, or AIDS walks.

Current statusEdit

Estimated number of US HIV/AIDS Cases, in 2007 by transmission category[16]

The CDC estimates that 1,218,400 U.S. residents aged 13 years and older are living with HIV infection, including 156,300 (12.8%) who are unaware of their infection. Over the past decade, the number of people living with HIV has increased, while the annual number of new HIV infections has remained relatively stable.

HIV Incidence (new infections): The estimated incidence of HIV has remained stable overall in recent years, at about 50,000 new HIV infections per year inside the U.S. Within the overall estimates, however, some groups are affected more than others. MSM continue to bear the greatest burden of HIV infection, and among races/ethnicities, African Americans continue to be disproportionately affected.

HIV Diagnoses (new diagnoses, regardless of when infection occurred or stage of disease at diagnosis): In 2013, an estimated 47,352 people were diagnosed with HIV infection in the United States. In that same year, an estimated 26,688 people were diagnosed with AIDS.

Deaths: An estimated 13,712 people with an AIDS diagnosis died in 2012, and approximately 658,507 people in the United States with an AIDS diagnosis have died overall. The deaths of persons with an AIDS diagnosis can be due to any cause—that is, the death may or may not be related to AIDS. [17]

UNAIDS estimates that there are a total of about 1,200,000 people in the U.S. living with HIV as of 2009, and that 310,000 of these are women (female 15+ years of age).[18]

In California alone, 184,429 cases (including children) have reported to have contracted HIV by December 2008. Of those, 85,958 have died, with 31,076 in Los Angeles County, 18,838 in San Francisco, and 7,135 in San Diego County.[19]

In 2015, 48,824 people were living with HIV (not AIDS) in the state of New York, with 38,441 in New York City alone.[20]

Washington DC has a particularly high incidence of HIV/AIDS, 177 new cases annually per 100,000 people, more than nine times higher than any state.[21]

In the United States, men who have sex with men (MSM), described as gay and bisexual,[22] make up about 55% of the total HIV-positive population, and 67% of new HIV cases and 83% of the estimated new HIV diagnoses among all males aged 13 and older, and an estimated 92% of new HIV diagnoses among all men in their age group (2014 report). 1 in 6 gay and bisexual men are therefore expected to be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime if current rates continue. Gay and bisexual men accounted for an estimated 54% of people diagnosed with AIDS, with 39% being African American, 32% being white, and 24% being Hispanic/Latino.[23]. The CDC estimates that more than 600,000 gay and bisexual men are currently living with HIV in the United States.[24] A review of four studies in which trans women in the United States were tested for HIV found that 27.7% tested positive.[25]

In a 2008 study, the Center for Disease Control found that, of the study participants who were men who had sex with men ("MSM"), almost one in five (19%) had HIV and "among those who were infected, nearly half (44 percent) were unaware of their HIV status." The research found that white MSM "represent a greater number of new HIV infections than any other population, followed closely by black MSM — who are one of the most disproportionately affected subgroups in the U.S." and that most new infections among white MSM occurred among those aged 30–39 followed closely by those aged 40–49, while most new infections among black MSM have occurred among young black MSM (aged 13–29).[26][27]

In 2015, a major HIV outbreak, Indiana's largest-ever, occurred in two largely rural, economically depressed and poor counties in the southern portion of the state, due to the injection of a relatively new opioid-type drug called Opana (oxymorphone), which is designed be taken in pill form but is ground up and injected intravenously using needles. Because of the lack of HIV cases in that area beforehand and the youth of many but not all of those affected, the relative unavailability in the local area of safe needle exchange programs and of treatment centers capable of dealing with long-term health needs, HIV care, and drug addiction during the initial phases of the outbreak, it was not initially adequately contained and dealt with until those were set up by the government, and acute awareness of the issue spread. Such centers have now been opened, and short-term care is beginning to be provided; once the scope of the outbreak became clear, Governor Mike Pence, despite some initial reservations, approved a legislative measure to allow safe, clean needle exchange programs and treatment for those affected, which could end up being instituted statewide.[28]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "The Differences Between HIV-1 and HIV-2". Retrieved February 14, 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c "HIV in the United States | Statistics Overview | Statistics Center | HIV/AIDS | CDC". Retrieved 2015-11-22. 
  3. ^ "Today's HIV/AIDS Epidemic Factsheet" (PDF). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. government. Retrieved 31 December 2016. 
  4. ^ "2008 HIV/AIDS Epidemiology Annual Report" (PDF). San Francisco Department of Public Health. July 9, 2009. Retrieved March 21, 2010. 
  5. ^ Wilson, Phill; Wright, Kai; Isbell, Michael T. (August 2008). "Left Behind: Black America: a Neglected Priority in the Global AIDS Epidemic" (PDF). Black AIDS Institute. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 21, 2010. Retrieved March 20, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Deaths in New York City Reached Historic Low in 2002" (Press release). New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. January 30, 2004. Retrieved March 20, 2010. 
  7. ^ Russell, Sabin (December 2, 2006). "Bush to ease rule limiting HIV-positive foreign visitors". San Francisco Chronicle. Hearst Communications. Retrieved March 21, 2010. 
  8. ^ | url = | title = Activist helps US HIV law change | publisher = BBC News | accessdate = January 9, 2012
  9. ^ a b Crowley, Jeffrey (October 30, 2009). "Honoring the Legacy of Ryan White". Office of the President of the United States. Retrieved March 21, 2010. 
  10. ^ "Final Rule Removing HIV Infection from U.S. Immigration Screening:". United States Department of State. 2010-01-19. Retrieved 2017-01-02. 
  11. ^ Kahn Best, Rachel. "Disease Politics and Medical Research Funding: Three Ways Advocacy Shapes Policy". American Sociological Review. 77 (5): 780–803. doi:10.1177/0003122412458509. Retrieved February 13, 2017. 
  12. ^ "Bloodborne Infectious Diseases HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B Virus, and Hepatitis C Virus". US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. March 10, 2010. Retrieved March 21, 2010. 
  13. ^ Juhasz, Alexandra (1995). AIDS TV: Identity, Community, and Alternative Video. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-1695-1. 
  14. ^ a b Ross, Loretta (2017). Reproductive Justice: An Introduction. Oakland, California: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520288201. 
  15. ^ "Key Affected Populations, HIV and AIDS". Avert: Global Information and Education on HIV and AIDS. 
  16. ^ "HIV/AIDS Basic Statistics". US Centers for Disease Control. February 26, 2009. Retrieved March 21, 2010. 
  17. ^ "HIV in the United States". Center for Disease Control. September 29, 2015. Retrieved June 29, 2016. 
  18. ^ "United States". HIV/AIDS Knowledge Base. University of California, San Francisco. Retrieved November 25, 2011. 
  19. ^ "December 2008 Monthly HIV/AIDS Statistics" (PDF). California Department of Public Health Office of AIDS. July 9, 2009. Retrieved March 21, 2010. 
  20. ^ "New York State HIV/AIDS Annual Surveillance Report: For Cases Diagnosed Through December 2015" (PDF). Bureau of HIV/AIDS Epidemiology AIDS Institute New York State Department of Health. Retrieved October 6, 2017. 
  21. ^ "The HIV/AIDS Epidemic in the United States". Kaiser Family Foundation. March 22, 2013. Retrieved June 2, 2012. 
  22. ^
  23. ^ "HIV Among Gay and Bisexual Men" (PDF). Retrieved 1 January 2017. 
  24. ^
  25. ^ "Estimating HIV Prevalence and Risk Behaviors of Transgender Persons in the United States: A Systematic Review". AIDS Behav. 12 (1): 1–17. Jan 2008. doi:10.1007/s10461-007-9299-3. PMID 17694429. 
  26. ^ CDC Fact Sheet - HIV and AIDS among Gay and Bisexual Men - Sept 2010
  27. ^ CDC: One In Five Gay Men HIV-Positive
  28. ^ Block, Melissa; Adams, Jerome (24 April 2015). "HIV Outbreak In Indiana Grows With Nearly 140 Confirmed Cases". NPR. Retrieved 4 May 2015. 


  1. Cante, Richard C. (March 2008). Gay Men and the Forms of Contemporary US Culture. London: Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 0-7546-7230-1. 
  2. Bogart, Laura; Thorburn, Sheryl (February 2005). "Are HIV/AIDS conspiracy beliefs a barrier to HIV prevention among African Americans?". J. Acquir. Immune Defic. Syndr. 38 (2): 213–8. doi:10.1097/00126334-200502010-00014. PMID 15671808. 
  3. Walker, Robert Searles (1994). AIDS: Today, Tomorrow : an Introduction to the HIV Epidemic in America (2nd ed.). Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press Intl. ISBN 0-391-03859-1. OCLC 30399464. 
  4. Siplon, Patricia (2002). AIDS and the policy struggle in the United States. Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press. ISBN 978-0-87840-378-3. OCLC 48964730. 

External linksEdit