California AIDS Cases Hit 15-Year Low in 2001; Decrease Attributed to Success of Antiretroviral Treatment
The number of new AIDS cases reported in California last year dropped to a 15-year low, a decrease largely attributed to the availability of AIDS drugs, according to health officials, the Los Angeles Times reports. The state Department of Health Services received 4,227 reports of new AIDS cases in 2001 -- 11.2% fewer than the number reported in 2000. However, the numbers could be "misleading," according to HIV/AIDS experts who say the same drugs that can delay the onset of AIDS also "have been interpreted by some as an excuse not to practice safe sex." Health officials suspect that HIV infections are increasing in big cities and worry that the decreasing trend in new AIDS cases may begin to reverse, as some studies have shown an increase in "risky sexual behavior," especially among gay and bisexual young men. "It's a very tricky balance to maintain," Gunther Freehill of the Los Angeles County Office of AIDS Programs and Policy said, adding, "You want people to know that there's hope, yet you don't want them to take risk. It's really much better not to get HIV in the first place." San Francisco health officials estimate that the number of new HIV cases has risen from 499 in 1997 to 1,122 in 2001.
Numbers Not Typical
California's AIDS figures are not representative of the national AIDS trend; the number of new AIDS cases nationally stopped declining in 1998, according to federal health officials. The discrepancy is due to demographics, according to HIV/AIDS experts. In California, HIV is more prevalent among gay and bisexual men who are more likely to be tested for HIV early and have access to health care and prescription drugs that slow the development of AIDS-related illnesses. However, in other areas of the country, HIV affects more women, minorities and intravenous drug users, populations that are less likely to seek treatment or have access to the same quality of health care and therefore may develop AIDS more quickly (Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, 2/14).