Atlanta More than a million Americans are believed to be living with the virus that causes AIDS, the government said Monday in a report that reflects both a victory and a failure at combatting the disease.
While better medicines are keeping more people with HIV alive, government health officials have failed to "break the back" of the AIDS epidemic by their stated goal of 2005. This is believed to be the first time the 1 million mark has been passed since the height of the epidemic in the 1980s.
New medicines that weren't around in 1981 have allowed people infected with the virus to live longer, said Dr. Ronald Valdiserri, deputy director of the CDC's National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention.
"While treatment advances have been an obvious godsend to those living with the disease, it presents new challenges for prevention," he said as the National HIV Prevention Conference got under way. Among the challenges is reaching an estimated 25 percent of those with HIV who don't even know they have it.
That in part is why the CDC has been unable to fulfill the 2001 pledge made by the agency's Dr. Robert Janssen to "break the back" of the epidemic by cutting in half the estimated 40,000 new HIV infections that have occurred every year since the 1990s.
Instead, recent outbreaks of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases in major cities offer a hint that new infections may be as high as 60,000 cases a year. Health officials say the prevention failure in part has come from an abandonment of safe sex practices by gay and bisexual men - who account for almost half of HIV cases. Experts think they may be weary of STD prevention messages. The majority of the others infected are high-risk heterosexuals and injection drug users.
Estimating the number of Americans with HIV has always been difficult for health officials, but this year's figures are believed to be the most accurate ever thanks to better reporting.
In the 1990s, the CDC and other agencies generally agreed that between 600,000 and 900,000 people had the virus, according to the University of California-San Francisco's Center for HIV Information. The number in the mid-1980s was probably around 1.2 million, experts believe.
The new estimates indicate blacks account for 47 percent of HIV cases; gay and bisexual men make up 45 percent of those living with the virus that causes AIDS, the health agency believes.