The annual number of new HIV infections fell 73% between the peak of the 1980s and 2019 in the United States, according to a new study by the country’s health authorities published on Thursday.
The proportion of people from black or Latino minorities has however increased within the total number of annual infections, underlines this analysis of the Centers for the prevention and fight against diseases (CDC).
The country’s leading federal public health agency released its first report on what was then a new and mysterious virus almost 40 years ago on June 5, 1981.
“The drop is due to decades of work and collaboration between scientists, patients, activists, and the public,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.
In it, she recounts her experience as a young doctor in Baltimore, on the American East Coast.
At the height of the epidemic, “all I had to give to my patients was my outstretched hand and my presence by their bed,” she recalls. It was not until the mid-1990s that the first highly effective treatments were approved.
The United States has some 1.2 million people living with the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, of whom about 13% do not know it.
According to the new CDC study, the annual number of new infections rose from 20,000 in 1981 to a peak of 130,400 in 1984 and 1985.
The figure then stabilized between 1991 and 2007, with around 50,000 to 58,000 new infections annually, and then declined in recent years, with 34,800 infections in 2019.
But during the period, the disparities between the different populations increased. The proportion of new annual HIV infections increased from 29% to 41% for black people among the total number of new infections, and from 16% to 29% for Hispanics.
Sex between men is still the main source of new infections: 63% in 1981 and 66% in 2019.
Although there is no cure or vaccine, so-called anti-retroviral treatments help control the virus and prevent it from causing AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
The drugs called PrEP and PEP, before and immediately after a potential infection, are also now available to prevent the transmission of HIV.
But while PrEP is 99% effective, only 23% of people who could benefit were using it in 2019.
Of those 23%, 63% were white people, compared to just 8% black people and 14% Hispanic people.
Periodic examinations and rapid tests have also made it possible to accomplish this decrease in the number of infections.
“Prevention tools are more and more effective but they need to reach the populations most affected”, underlines the report.
More than half of new infections are in the southern United States, while the number also remains high among transgender women and people who inject drugs.
Worldwide, nearly 32 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the start of the epidemic, including 730,000 in the United States.