Thirty-one years ago, on June 5, in 1981, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta published a report of five cases of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) among previously healthy young men in Los Angeles. All of the men were described as “homosexuals” — two had died.
This was the first official mention of a disease that had no name, no known means of transmission, no treatment and no cure.
In the more than 30 years that would follow, an estimated 60 million people world-wide would contract the disease known as HIV, and the global AIDS pandemic would claim the lives of more than 30 million people.
Today is World AIDS Day.
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In what has become one of the most recognized international health days in modern history, World AIDS Day is a day to raise awareness and commemorate those who have lost their lives to one of the most destructive epidemics in recorded history.
At its peak in 1996, an estimated 2.6 million people became infected with HIV.
Today, while there is increased access to treatments for AIDS and HIV that can slow the course of the disease, there is still no known cure or vaccine.
According to the United Nations, about 34 million people worldwide are living with HIV, and two thirds of them live in developing countries around the world.
In 2011, there were 2.5 million new infections worldwide – down 700,000 from the 2001 figure – and an estimated 1.7 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses. That was 600,000 fewer than in 2005.
And while the rate of new HIV infections has declined globally — about 25 percent over the last decade — the total number of HIV infections remains high, at about 7,000 per day, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
In the United States, an estimated 1.1 million people are living with HIV, and about 50,000 people get HIV each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Recent data indicate that 1 in 4 (26 percent) of new HIV infections occur in youth, between the ages of 13-24.
In 2010, about 12,000 young people, or about 1,000 per month, were infected with HIV.
As infection rates decline, the public’s level of awareness of their very real risk for contracting HIV wanes. Stigma continues to prove as deadly as the disease itself, keeping people from getting tested and treated for HIV/AIDS.
According to a 2010 study by the CDC, nearly one in five gay and bisexual men in 21 major U.S. cities are infected with HIV, and the majority of new infections are spread by people who are unaware of their own status.