AIDS Turns

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - 2:14pm

The 30th anniversary of the first HIV/AIDS cases arrives without a cure.

30 years ago this June the Centers for Disease Control published reports of a few cases of a rare type of pneumonia among gay men.

Their condition soon had a name: AIDS.

Today more than 33-million people worldwide are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

HIV was a virus first thought to be limited to the gay population, a misperception that shattered when celebrities like Magic Johnson announced they too were HIV-positive.

The former basketball star is living evidence that in many cases HIV should no longer be considered a death sentence if it's caught early.

It's now a treatable disease thanks to huge advancements in drugs called anti-retrovirals.

Dr. Myron Cohen of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill has led AIDS research and worked with patients since the first HIV cases came to light 30 years ago.

He and a team of researchers recently found that treating HIV-infected men and women with anti-retroviral drugs soon after diagnosis can reduce the likelihood they'll pass the virus to uninfected sexual partners by 96-percent.

"It took us almost 20 years for us to develop all of the tools we needed and prove that it worked.. so these things take a lot of time and a lot of tenacity," he says.

Despite advances and awareness AIDS remains a stigmatized disease and disproportionately affects the African-American community.

"In many communities, people you know still struggle with how to not just deal with HIV and AIDS but how to tell others about their HIV status," notes the National Minority AIDS Council's Daniel C. Montoya.

Research into an AIDS vaccine has had setbacks, with some experiments offering only small benefits and some doing more harm than good, but Dr. Cohen says a vaccine is an achievable goal.

"I think the chance of making a vaccine that offers a substantial protection if not 100% protection is very strong," he says.

The hope for the next 30 years of AIDS research: a cure.

A cure for AIDS would enable patients to go off of anti-retroviral therapy, an expensive and life-long commitment.

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