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Byline: Rachel Uranga Staff Writer

The number of Americans with HIV has swelled to more than 1 million, with the epidemic showing no sign of abating and medical advances allowing victims to live longer with the virus that causes AIDS, a report released Monday says.

Analysts in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1.04 million to 1.18 million Americans were living with the human immununodeficiency virus in December 2003, up from 850,000 to 950,000 just three years earlier.

``It's a benchmark we haven't been looking forward to,'' said Mario Perez, interim director for AIDS programs and policy for Los Angeles County, where as many as 60,000 people are believed to have HIV or full-blown AIDS.

Perez said 1,500 to 2,000 new HIV and AIDS cases are diagnosed annually in the county, a clear indication that more money is needed for education and prevention programs.

``We see sharp decreases in infections when prevention goes up. To me, it very clear.''

The number of HIV-infected Americans is the highest since the peak of the epidemic in the 1980s, when acquired immunodeficiency syndrome swept through the gay community.

Despite advances in treating the virus and staving off its deadly complications, researchers have not yet been able to develop a vaccine or a cure.

``Treatment success has actually brought new challenges,'' said Kate Glen, an epidemiologist at the CDC's Office of AIDS Prevention and author of the report released today. ``While (HIV patients) are living longer and healthier lives, it may have created an environment of real concern - a perception that people can live with HIV.''

Many gay and bisexual men have let down their guard after enduring years of safe-sex messages, health authorities say, and HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases have recently spread.

As a result, health authorities have been unable to meet a federal goal of halving the rate of 40,000 new infections a year.

``In the 1980s, you saw something terrible - people dying from AIDS. It was horrible - these really skinny people. You don't see it now. These people (with HIV) look normal. Many (people), especially minorities, say they are only having sex with healthy-looking people, so they won't test,'' said Carlos Peralta, director for HIV services at El Proyecto del Barrio in Panorama City.

Tony, a 48-year-old San Fernando Valley resident diagnosed with AIDS in 1998, knows that reality is often denied among gay men. And though he takes a sober approach to his illness, he sometimes feels even himself momentarily slip.

``Normality sets in when you haven't been to a hospital for a while. And I do have to catch myself and say, Hey, wait a minute.''

The study found African-American men disproportionately affected by HIV - accounting for a near majority of those with it: 47 percent. Whites accounted for 34 percent and Hispanics for 17 percent. Asians, Pacific Islanders and American Indians were 1 percent of those infected with HIV.

In Los Angeles County, at least 40 percent of the HIV cases are among Latinos, local health authorities estimate, with 25 percent among African-Americans and about 35 percent among non-Latino whites.

Federal health authorities estimate that HIV remains undiagnosed in 24 percent to 27 percent of infected people, and local officials say that is mirrored in Los Angeles County. The most common form of transmission nationally is men having sex with men, accounting for 45 percent of those infected.

In Los Angeles County, where HIV reporting was implemented in 2002, officials say they have found that Latinos and blacks have a lower rate of diagnosed HIV infection but a higher incidence of AIDS.

Latinos and blacks are getting diagnosed later, which means they could be unknowingly transmitting it over a longer period of time, said Douglas Frye, medical director for HIV epidemiology program for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Rachel Uranga, (818) 713-3741






SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Jun 14, 2005
Next Article:CRIT-O-MATIC.

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