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Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is an infectious disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). It was first recognized in the United States in 1981. AIDS is the advanced form of infection with the HIV virus, which may not cause disease for a long period after the initial exposure (latency). Infection with HIV weakens the immune system which makes infected people susceptible to infection and cancer.
AIDS is considered one of the most devastating public health problems in recent history. In 1996, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that one million persons in the United States were HIV-positive, and 223,000 are living with AIDS. Of these patients, 44% were gay or bisexual men, 26% are heterosexual intravenous drug users, and 18% were women. In addition, approximately 1,000-2,000 children are born each year with HIV infection. In 2002, the CDC reported 42,136 new AIDS diagnoses in the United States, a 2.2% increase from the previous year. AIDS cases rose among gay and bisexual men (7.1% in 25 states that report regularly). The disease also seems to be rising among older Americans. From 1990 to 2001, the number of cases in Americans age 50 years or older rose from 16,288 to 90,153.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 40 million people worldwide were infected with AIDS/HIV as of 2001. Most of these cases are in the developing countries of Asia and Africa. In 2003, WHO cautioned that if treatment were not delivered soon to nearly 6 million people with AIDS in developing countries, there could be 45 million cases by 2010.
AIDS can be transmitted in several ways. The risk factors for HIV transmission vary according to category:
HIV is not transmitted by handshakes or other casual non-sexual contact, coughing or sneezing, or by bloodsucking insects such as mosquitoes.
Author Info: Belinda Rowland, Teresa G. Odle, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, 2005
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