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The History of the HIV/AIDS Virus

June 2011 marked an important milestone in the world of HIV/AIDS; it was the 30th anniversary of the first documented case of the virus. The first warning about the virus was released by the CDC on June 5, 1981. This unknown virus was originally described as a rare form of pneumonia affecting a relatively small number of gay men. The following year, it was given the name HIV/AIDS.

Over the past 32 years, significant strides have been made with regard to the virus known as HIV/AIDS. Today, researchers have gained greater understanding of the virus’s underlying causes, prevention, and treatment methods, and are getting closer each year to a possible vaccine.

History of Available HIV/AIDS Treatment Options

The first treatment option, known as Zidovudine, or AZT, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1987. While this monotherapy showed initial promise, researches quickly found increases in the virus’s resistance to AZT.

A new era of HIV combination treatment options, known today as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), launched in 1995 with the FDA’s swift approval of saquinavir, a protease inhibitor. In 1996, the first test to measure a patient’s viral load was approved. During the same year, the FDA approved HIV home collection and testing kits and the first non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI), known as nevirapine. In just two short years following the release of antiretroviral drug therapy options in the United States, AIDS-related deaths declined 40 percent from the prior year.

In 1998, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the first set of protocols for the administration of HAART, referred to by many as the AIDS cocktail.

Antiretroviral therapy options for HIV patients were further expanded with the FDA’s approval of fusion inhibitors in March 2003 and entry inhibitors in August 2007. Between 2009 and 2010, many of the antiretroviral drug therapies were approved in generic form, making them more affordable and thus more acceptable to HIV/AIDS patients worldwide. 

Status of HIV/AIDS Today

Despite significant strides in virtually every facet surrounding the disease, the virus still impacts a significant number of individuals globally every year. In the United States alone, nearly 56,000 new HIV cases and 18,000 related deaths are reported annually. And, there are currently 1.1 million Americans living with the disease.

HIV doesn’t discriminate based upon an individual’s gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. However, segments of the population in the United States report more cases of the virus. The current breakdown of newly diagnosed HIV cases in the U.S. can be described as follows:

  • 53 percent: men who have sex with men
  • 31 percent:  heterosexual men and women
  • 4 percent: men who have sex with men and who can be categorized as injection drug users
  • 12 percent:  injection drug users

Men who have sex with men are the only grouping in which new HIV cases are still on the rise.

Ongoing research continues in the understanding of HIV/AIDS. Clinical trials are currently under way for possible vaccine options. Additional drug options are currently being researched and have been submitted to the FDA for approval. And, continual efforts toward additional prevention of the virus are under way, not only in the U.S., but worldwide. 

Content licensed from:

Written by: Julie Verville
Medically reviewed on: Feb 19, 2013: George Krucik, MD, MBA

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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