HIV/AIDS in North America

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HIV/AIDS in North America

Many people would call the USA (North America) the birthplace of HIV and AIDS. Whether that’s fair or not is anybody’s guess as nobody really knows for sure where the disease originated.

What they do know is that the first cases of AIDS were seen in New York and California back in 1981 and there started the world’s biggest health epidemic.

There are now 750,000 people living with HIV and AIDS in the USA and more than half a million have died in the last 20 years after developing AIDS. In Canada it’s estimated that around 56,000 people are infected and 13,000 have died.

The number of people living with HIV could actually be far higher as several North American states only actually report AIDS figures. Thanks to anti HIV drugs the number of AIDS cases is declining so published figures could be giving a distorted view of the true situation.

Just 36 states report HIV cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( and only 33 of these have been reporting for the last five years. Anonymous tests are also excluded from the information.

This means that there is a lack of really accurate information about the extent of the virus.

Not surprisingly New York has the highest incidence of people living with HIV/AIDS – 137,000 people are now infected. This is followed by Los Angeles with 47,500 cases and San Francisco with 30,000. In Canada, 95% of the country’s diagnoses occur in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Alberta.

Gay sex is still the biggest cause of the disease in North America. Nearly 50% of all new HIV cases in 2003 were among the gay community and the figure is rising. In Canada the figure was 41%. However the number of cases among heterosexuals has also risen dramatically. They now account for about 30% of all new HIV/AIDS cases. In 2003, 27% of these were women. This figure is more or less mirrored in Canada.

The rise in figures is a bitter blow for both the American and Canadian governments. Until the late 1990s the number of cases of both AIDS and HIV had been dropping. But in the last few years they have begun to rise again.

The increase could largely be down to the widespread use of anti HIV drugs. These cause a decline in the number of people with AIDS and hence a rise in the number of people with HIV. It could also be due to the fact that both countries are more than 20 years on from the first case of AIDS. The rise in both homosexual and heterosexual cases shows that people may be taking more risks because they have lived with the threat of the virus for so long that they have become complacent.

On the positive side, thanks to needle exchange programs the number of injecting drug users with the virus has declined.

In America more white people have historically been diagnosed with both HIV and AIDS. However in 2003 nearly half of all new cases – around 37,000 were among black people. Hispanics and Asians accounted for 14,000 diagnoses.

In other words not one part of the USA has been unaffected and not one social or ethnic community remains untouched by HIV and AIDS. In Canada the only province to report no cases of HIV and AIDS in 2003 was Nunavut.


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