WASHINGTON -- While male homosexuals still account for the majority of AIDS cases, the disease is spreading most rapidly among heterosexuals, the government reported yesterday.
More than 206,000 Americans have contracted AIDS since 1981, including an estimated 133,000 AIDS patients who have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
And the pace of AIDS diagnoses is accelerating rapidly. The first 100,000 cases in the United States were diagnosed over nearly eight years; the second 100,000 cases came in two years, between September 1989 and November 1991.
By comparing the first 100,000 AIDS cases with the second 100,000 cases, the CDC concluded that incidence of the disease is spreading fastest by heterosexual transmission and continues to disproportionately affect blacks and Hispanics.
Homosexual men with no intravenous drug use accounted for 61 percent of the first 100,000 AIDS cases reported to the government, but 55 percent of the second 100,000 cases.
By comparison, heterosexual transmission accounted for 5 percent of the first 100,000 AIDS cases and 7 percent of the second 100,000, the CDC said, an increase of 44 percent.
The other cases of AIDS were intravenous drug users, hemophiliacs and people who receive HIV-tainted blood transfusions.
AIDS experts said that while gay and bisexual men have raised their guard against the disease, heterosexuals are mistakenly underestimating their risk of contracting the deadly disease.
"Gay men have had the experience of seeing their friends die, and very few heterosexuals have had that experience. And let's hope that's not what it takes," said Carisa Cunningham, communications director of the AIDS Action Council.
Ms. Cunningham said that the relative decline in the number of cases among homosexual men could be partly attributed to improved treatment regimens, including AZT, which delays the onset of full-blown AIDS.
More than 1 million Americans are estimated to have contracted the human immunodeficiency virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome, but only 20 percent have been diagnosed with the disease.