|Nursing dean recalls work with AIDS|
Twenty-five years ago this month, the Centers for Disease Control published its widely watched weekly Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) with a nine-paragraph item about Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in five previously healthy young men in Los Angeles.
And Americans were introduced to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), a frightening new disease, said Chandice Covington, dean of the College of Nursing and a long-time researcher in AIDS-related family health issues in Africa and elsewhere. At first, she notes, it seemed to solely affect gay men. But slowly it also affected heterosexual couples, and more became known about IV drug abuse and transmission.
We soon learned that anyone could be affected, she says. AIDS is a truly global pandemic, and it affects men, women, children, people of all ages. It knows no boundaries.
When that first official report of the disease was published, no one knew it was the opening salvo on what the United Nations now calls the worlds most devastating epidemic, which so far has killed more than 25 million people.
Today, AIDS affects at least 40 million worldwide, and the disease has been reported in every region of the globe, says Covington, whose AIDS-related research has taken her several times to Africa, where the epidemic is particularly severe. Cases rapidly began multiplying among poor, heterosexual women, a challenge Covington is well aware of in her work among young mothers in Kenya, a east African country of 32 million people She notes that of the more than 10 million AIDS orphans living worldwide, more than 90 percent live in sub-Saharan Africa.
In the United States alone, about 1 million people are living with HIV and 40,000 new infections occur each year, says Covington. In the last 25 years, more than half a million people in the United States have been killed by HIV/AIDS.
And, she points out, even with extensive public information campaigns and public health education initiatives, infection rates continue to climb among women, racial and ethnic minorities, young homosexual men, individuals with certain addictive disorders and people over 50 years of age.
AIDS viruses are tiny but ugly critters, says Covington. You can fit about 10,000 of these virions on the tip of a pen where only 600 bacteria will fit.
The underlying fact about AIDS is it is caused by something that is not really alive. A virus is really not a living thing, it is a piece of information, says Covington. And they're odd and sneaky, in that, like a Trojan horse, the virion hides out in the white blood cells of the body, and uses the cell's resources to replicate, until the cell bursts to release thousands of new virus particles that continue to infect.
A major challenge in diagnosing and preventing AIDS is cultural, Covington observes.
Though other news events, such as Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath and the war in Iraq have superseded recent AIDS coverage, AIDS hasn't gone away, Covington says. The problem is still there.
There's a glimmer of hope, she points out. There are at least 26 million people worldwide who are HIV-positive, but they dont have AIDS; you see people living productive lives into their 60s and 70s with the virus because they have access to antiretroviral drugs.
We know more now about HIV, as many of our loved ones, neighbors or acquaintances are affected by AIDS.