Will HIV/AIDS go down in history as the single largest pandemic of all time or will we effectively stop this killer before it tops the bubonic plague of the Middle Ages or the Great Influenza of 1918-1919?
Early warnings suggested that HIV/AIDS deaths could reach 90 million, higher than the estimated 75 million that fell victim to the “black death” in the 14th century and the more than 50 million that died of the Spanish Flu as World War I ended. Now, thirty years into the crisis, AIDS has infected 60 million people and 27 million have died. Unfortunately, as treatment options have expanded, complacency about the disease has set-in resulting in a continuing spread of the virus.
Antiretroviral therapy has allowed HIV-infected subjects in the United States and Europe to live longer with a greatly improved quality of life. These individuals are no longer dying of AIDS or related illnesses, but instead are succumbing to the same diseases of the heart, liver, kidney, brain and other organs that affect the general population. Disturbingly, these diseases are striking 10-20 years earlier in those infected with HIV despite effective antiviral treatment. Urgent efforts are now underway to understand why this “accelerated aging” is occurring and to devise ways to interrupt it.
Time will tell, but this is a disease that is on the rise again which no one wants to talk about.