HIV: The Other Epidemic
Written by Louis DePalo, MD including interview with Michael Mullen, MD
Given our current battle with the SARS-CoV-2 virus of COVID-19, it is hard to look beyond the pandemic affecting us all today, but the decades-long research and international fight against HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) has some scientists drawing parallels between the two diseases.
We are also on the heels of the June 27th National HIV Testing Awareness day which was first established at the peak of the epidemic in 1995. There are multiple days throughout the year dedicated to spreading awareness on HIV, and rightfully so. It was first described in the United States in June of 1981 and has changed from an almost always fatal and rapidly progressive disease to one that can now be considered chronic and even within the reach of a cure.
As we began to learn about this disease, it was discovered that it had a worldwide distribution, did not discriminate between sexual preference, class, race, color, or creed but was disproportionately distributed. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who we now know as a household name for his work to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, played a central role in the discovery of the viral nature of this disease. Today, HIV prevention remains the most important tool to battle the epidemic which we have come to live with for the last forty years.
I sat down with Dr. Michael Mullen, a pioneer in HIV treatment, Director for the Institute of Advanced Medicine and a Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, to discuss whether we can draw parallels between COVID-19 and HIV and his history of studying and fighting the disease.
Before we dive in, below are some HIV facts for the United States, from a 2019 report published by KFF:
- Number of new HIV infections: 38,500
- Number of people living with HIV: 1.1+ million
- Percent of people infected with HIV who don’t know it: 15%
- Percent of people with HIV who are virally suppressed: 51%
- HIV-related mortality rates have declined significantly. Still, more than 6,000 people died of HIV/AIDS in 2016.
- While HIV is not a leading cause of death for Americans overall, it remains a leading cause of death for certain age groups. In 2016, HIV was the 9th leading cause of death for those ages 25-34 and 35-44.
- In 2017, most newly diagnosed cases of HIV occurred through male-to-male sexual contact (66%). Transmission through heterosexual sex now accounts for more cases than at the beginning of the epidemic, 24% of new diagnoses in 2017.
- Racial and ethnic minorities have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic, and represent the majority of new HIV diagnoses, people living with HIV disease, and deaths among people with HIV.
My Interview with Dr. Michael Mullen, a pioneer in HIV treatment
Can you draw parallels to those early years of the HIV epidemic to what we are facing now with COVID-19?
How important is education and government involvement in finding a treatment?
Will the race for a COVID-19 vaccine inform the development of an HIV vaccine?
What will it take to end the spread of HIV?
“The HIV/AIDS Epidemic in the United States: The Basics,” KFF, accessed July 2020, https://www.kff.org/hivaids/fact-sheet/the-hivaids-epidemic-in-the-united-states-the-basics
About Dr. Michael Mullen
Dr. Michael Mullen is the Institute Director for Advanced Medicine and a Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. His clinical focuses include HIV and AIDS, pneumonia, shingles, syphilis, and tuberculosis. He is a member of the American Board of Internal Medicine and the Board of Infectious Disease. He is consistently listed in New York magazine’s Best Doctors as well as the New York Times Super Doctors. In 2008, he provided medical expertise in the Daily News feature “The Daily Checkup,” wherein he discussed the ongoing struggle against AIDS, improvements in treatment methods, and the development of new drugs.
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