Getting to Zero: Researchers Search for Answers to AIDS

Despite improvements in health care, more than 16,000 people with AIDS die each year in the U.S.

Despite improvements in health care, more than 16,000 people with AIDS die each year in the U.S.

Although progress has been made since AIDS reached its height in the ‘90s, researchers and health care providers continue to search for answers for those living with the disease.

More than 33 million people currently live with AIDS, an autoimmune disease that has claimed more than 25 million lives worldwide. However, rates are down about 20 percent from 30 years ago, said James Walker, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Internal Medicine in Amarillo.

“In the early ‘80s we discovered people were dying from this disease, we didn’t have a name for it, didn’t know what it was and didn’t have a treatment,” Walker said. “At that time, the prognosis was bleak.”

A Brighter Outlook

While there is still no cure or vaccine to prevent AIDS, years of research and awareness campaigns, like World AIDS Day, have given people a better understanding of the disease and health care providers better treatment options.

“We are not clear of this disease … but it does not kill as many people,” Walker said.

Walker noted the continent of Africa alone has more than 20 million patients with HIV/AIDS. However, there has been a dramatic increase is spending to help provide the medicine and education needed in Africa.

"I think we’ve increased the funding from about $300 million per year to Africa to about $15 billion a year," he said.

HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is transmitted through sexual contact, blood transfusions or needle sharing or from mother to child. Pregnant women can transmit the virus to her baby, or nursing mothers can transmit HIV to their infants through breast milk.

The virus attacks the body’s immune system and leaves the sufferer vulnerable to a variety of life-threatening infections and cancers. Symptoms of AIDS, the final stage of HIV, include chills, fever, night sweats, swollen lymph glands, weakness and weight loss.

Researchers are looking into behavioral changes to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. Behaviors that increase a person’s risk for contracting the disease include: unprotected sex, intravenous drug use and lack of access to medical care.

Click here for more information about how you can protect yourself against AIDS.

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