Preliminary CDC Data Detects Rise in U.S. AIDS Cases for First Time in Seven Years
Preliminary data from the CDC shows that U.S. AIDS cases rose by 8% in 2001 after seven years of "steady decline," Knight-Ridder/Albany Times Union reports. According to figures released yesterday, 42,008 new AIDS cases were reported last year, compared to 38,864 new cases in 2000. The East Coast saw the greatest increase, with New York City, which is reported separately from the rest of the state, recording a 47% increase in AIDS cases. The number of cases also increased in the Southeast with a 41% rise in Georgia and North Carolina and a 4% increase in Florida. In contrast, the number of cases in California were down 9%, and Michigan and Kansas recorded declines of 28% and 22%, respectively. CDC spokesperson Kitty Bina cautioned that the numbers were considered "raw data" and could change when the final report is issued in June. Some of the cases may be duplicates and others may be missing, she noted. However, Knight-Ridder/Times Union reports that over the past six years there has been little change between the preliminary and finalized national AIDS figures and that the final number of AIDS cases has tended to increase rather than decrease after review. The data is not yet available on the CDC's Web site.
A New Trend?
HHS spokesperson Bill Hall noted that even if the final report does show an increase in new AIDS cases last year, the increase "does not indicate a trend reversal." But AIDS researchers said that the numbers are only confirming a trend they had begun to suspect. "There have been several warning flags that have been going up that people have been keeping an eye on closely. We had already noticed that the rate of better numbers had been beginning to plateau," Dr. Margaret Fischl, director of the University of Miami's AIDS Clinical Research Unit, said. The altered perception of AIDS as a "manageable disease" rather than a "certain death sentence" may be making people less diligent about practicing safe sex and less likely to take antiretroviral drugs, which lower viral count but can have side effects, she added. Nicholas Hellmann, vice president of clinical research at Virologic, a San Francisco-based biotech company, agreed, saying that when any virus "starts to look like less of a formidable disease, it tends to be transmitted much more than it did when people were much more afraid of it." Compounding the problem are reports that the drugs used to treat HIV infection are no longer as effective as they once were in people who have been taking them for years. Dr. Michael Wohlfeiler, a Miami HIV/AIDS specialist, said that doctors are "starting to see those old AIDS infections, that we actually haven't seen for years, the kinds of stuff we used to deal with day in, day out six or seven years ago" (Borenstein, Knight-Ridder/Albany Times Union, 1/4).