THURSDAY, June 2 (HealthDay News) -- Although HIV/AIDS continues to be an epidemic with no cure, thanks to powerful medications more HIV-infected Americans are living longer and healthier lives, federal health officials said Thursday.
By the close of 2008 there were 1,178,350 people in the United States living with HIV, 20 percent of whom don't know they are infected, according to researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Our prevalence of individuals with HIV continues to increase," said Dr. Michael A. Kolber, professor of medicine and director of the Comprehensive AIDS Program at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. He was not involved with the CDC study.
AIDS has taken a terrible toll on the United States since cases were first reported by CDC researchers 30 years ago this week. Since that time, 594,496 Americans have died of the disease, the CDC said.
However, thanks to the advent of HIV-suppressing medications, infection can now be considered less of a death sentence and more of a chronic disease, because "antiretroviral [drug] therapy is highly effective," Kolber said.
Still, the rising number on new infections is troubling. "People do not need to get HIV, it's a preventable disease," Kolber said. "But we also need to identify individuals with HIV and get them into care, which will reduce transmission."
In fact, one recent study found that if started early after diagnosis, antiretroviral medications can help cut HIV transmission to a sex partner by 96 percent. Adding condoms to that preventive strategy ups the odds even further that a partner will remain uninfected.
Too many people with HIV don't even realize that they carry the virus. What is needed is better access to testing and care, Kolber said. "We know that when people are tested positive it decreases their sexual activity in many cases. And if
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