SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – Forty years to this day, the first cases of AIDS were reported in the United States.
The anniversary is commemorated across America.
Although HIV infections are down significantly since the height of the public health crisis in the 80s, the deadly virus is still claiming lives.
Here in the Bay Area, San Francisco has long been considered the epicenter of the epidemic.
“The first 10 years of AIDS was just essentially watching people die,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi with Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.
Dr. Gandhi goes on even further in saying at one point, AIDS was a death sentence.
The condition is a result of the retrovirus HIV.
When HIV becomes more advanced, those symptoms are called AIDS.
A diagnosis means the person’s immune system is compromised and susceptible to severe and deadly infections.
Dr. Gandhi is a professor of medicine at UCSF and serves as medical director of Ward 86 HIV Clinic at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.
“In the United States, we have about 50,000 people diagnosed with HIV every year, and unfortunately, that rate has not decreased essentially for the last ten years,” she said.
Still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and says the number of HIV infections decreased by 73% from the highest rates in 1984 and 1985 to 2019.
Dr. Gandhi credits better medicine.
Ingesting one anti-retroviral pill every day can allow someone who is HIV-positive to live near-normal life expectancy, and never deteriorate to developing AIDS, though she says there are troubling patterns.
“As we’ve seen rates go down, for example, among white gay men, we’ve seen rates go up in men of color who are gay. Essentially, we’ve seen a disproportionate impact on MSM, men who have sex with men, who are black or LatinX in our country,” Dr. Ghandi said.
She also fears the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many infected people going undiagnosed because infectious disease and HIV doctors across the state had to turn their attention to the novel coronavirus.
She says we are also not close to a cure.
“However, what I’m actually really hopeful about for the next couple of years is the concept of an MRNA vaccine for HIV, because we’ve learned from COVID, how extremely effective MRNA vaccines are, and this is the new thought and the new test, and there’s already been some animal testing with MRNA vaccines for HIV, that could we have ultimately and effective vaccine for HIV, which wouldn’t cure it, but it would prevent it, and the cure is still being actively worked on.”
The CDC says an estimated 770,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2018.
An estimated 35 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the start of the epidemic.