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AIDS Twenty Years Later

AIDS Twenty Years Later

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Dr. Kim Mulvihill ReportingTwenty years ago this week researchers identified the virus that causes AIDS.

In 1981 no one knew what illness was about to kill thousands of gay men in San Francisco. Men began displaying a strange constellation of illnesses: pneumonia, kaposi sarcoma (a rare skin cancer), and persistent fungal infections.

First it was called gay cancer, then GRID -- for gay related immune deficiency syndrome -- and then two decades ago this week, French researchers identified the culprit - it was a virus. An announcement confirmed it the same day by scientists at the CDC.

Twenty years later there is no cure and no vaccine. So far thirty million people have died of AIDS, and forty million more are infected with the virus. But the face of AIDS has without a doubt changed.

Nafis Sadiq, M.D., United Nations: “What is alarming about the epidemic now is that more infections are being found in women then in men."

HIV infection is growing within the heterosexual community - both worldwide and in America. And the escalating risk is especially visible among young women and girls. They are more vulnerable to the disease, due in part to cultural, societal and biological reasons.

Nancy Padian, M.D., UC San Francisco: “Semen usually has more HIV than vaginal secretions, and the semen or infectious particles stay in the vaginal valut longer than on the penis."

And a myth once heard only in Africa that if a man has sex with a virgin he is going to get cured, has spread to parts of Asia - helping to spread the disease.

Last week, America's Secretary of State Colin Powell called AIDS the greatest weapon of mass destruction on Earth. The disease is not under control. India and China are on the brink of explosive epidemics.

In America the disease is spreading among young gay men, African Americans and women. And in the former Soviet Union, IV drug users are dramatically boosting the numbers of infected people.

A vaccine is still years away; the best way to avoid HIV is to protect yourself.

This year's international AIDS conference will be held this July in Bangkok, Thailand. The leaders of China, India, Brazil, Nigeria, Uganda and Russia all plan to attend.

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