CDC Reports Significant Declines In HIV Infection Rates

Jim Burroway

January 17th, 2009

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of people living with HIV and AIDS continues to rise as antiretroviral medication continues to prolong lives. In fact, we reported on a study last summer which showed that life-expectancy for those infected with HIV is now approaching normal. While nobody likes to see the number of people living with HIV/AIDS continue to increase, we also noted another CDC study which showed that the number of new HIV infections has remained relatively flat over the past ten years, a finding that is consistent with the fact that new AIDS cases has actually been declining slightly over the same period.

Now the CDC reports some more good news which sheds some light into how the number of HIV infections have remained so flat: The infection rate has been steadily declining since the 1980’s:

Researchers found that the HIV transmission rate has declined dramatically since the early days of the epidemic. In 1980, for example, when the disease was still undetected, the transmission rate was 92 percent, meaning there were 92 transmissions per 100 persons living with HIV at the time. After the identification of AIDS, and later HIV, and the implementation of HIV testing and other prevention efforts, transmission rates began to decline.

Since the peak level of new infections in the mid-1980s, just prior to the introduction of HIV testing, the transmission rate has declined by approximately 89 percent (from 44 transmissions per 100 persons living with HIV in 1984 to five transmissions per 100 persons living with HIV in 2006). Over the last decade, as prevention efforts have been expanded and improved treatments for HIV became available, the transmission rate has declined by 33 percent (from an estimated eight transmissions per 100 persons living with HIV in 1997 to five in 2006). Five transmissions per 100 persons living with HIV in 2006 means more than 95 percent of persons living with HIV did not transmit the infection that year.

The large fluctuations in the graph prior to 1980 are due to the relatively small numbers of persons living with HIV at that time and the limited surveillance structures that were in place.

The analysis, conducted by Drs. David R Holtgrave, H. Irene Hall, Philip H. Rhodes, and Richard J. Wolitski, will be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

[Hat tip: Michael Petrelis]

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