Death rates from AIDS continue to fall

Rate of infection, however, is continuing to decline

August 31, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Death rates from AIDS in the United States slowed again in 1998. But the rates are no longer falling as rapidly as they did from 1995 to 1997, after the introduction of combination drug therapy, health officials said yesterday at a meeting in Atlanta.

And the rate of infection with HIV, the AIDS virus, is no longer declining and has stabilized, the officials said. About 40,000 Americans have been infected annually in recent years.

Nationwide, AIDS deaths dropped 42 percent from 1996 to 1997 but only 20 percent from 1997 to 1998, reported the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Although these rates are much lower than they were at their peak in the 1980s, the slowing rate of decline shows that more aggressive prevention efforts are needed, officials said.

At the same time, a new method of testing blood has been providing hitherto unavailable information about trends in new infections and fresh ways to detect hot spots of infections -- steps that are expected to help focus prevention efforts on groups in which the virus is being transmitted most rapidly.

The incidence of new infections with HIV was "dangerously high" in some areas among young gay men and heterosexual women, particularly blacks and members of other minorities, participants at a conference in Atlanta said.

The new studies also showed that the highest rates of HIV infection were found among men and women who had been infected with other sexually transmitted diseases.

"In this era of better therapies, it is clear that people are becoming complacent about prevention," said Dr. Helene Gayle, who directs the AIDS program for the CDC in Atlanta.

Experts have offered several explanations why the decline in the death rates has slowed. One is that a saturation effect has set in: Most people who know they are infected are already receiving the newer combinations of drug treatments and are responding favorably. But at the same time, many people are unable to take the large number of pills prescribed each day, or the HIV strains infecting them are resistant to the drug combinations.

Pub Date: 8/31/99

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