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HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is part of a group of viruses known as retroviruses and is the third one to be discovered since 1980. To be even more specific, it is a class of retroviruses known as lentiviruses. Lentiviruses are traditionally associated with chronic arthritis and anemia and cause slowly progressive and often fatal diseases. The earliest documented case of a HIV infection was found in a 1959 vintage blood sample from central Africa.

The epidemic probably traveled down the Mombasa-Kinshasa highway in Africa and entered the U.S. during the mid 1970s. The CDC began noticing in 1981 rare diseases in gay men which traditionally affected people with damaged immune systems. They found diseases such as pneumocystis, carinii pneumonia, and Kaposi's sarcoma.

The human immunodeficiency virus infects the immune system and can lead to AIDS. People can be infected with the virus for many years without becoming ill and still transmit it to others.

The World Health Organization estimates that currently 17 million people are infected with HIV and 4 million have AIDS worldwide. By the year 2000, the number could jump to 40 million infected. More than 90% of AIDS occur in third world countries. The largest number of people infected are in sub-Saharan Africa with over 2.5 million people infected with AIDS and more than 10 million adults with HIV.

In the U.S., AIDS is mostly found among homosexual/bisexual men. 47% of reported cases in 1993 were from this group. Drug users who use needles make up about 28% of the reported cases in 1993. If you want to break this statistic down even further, you'll find that African American and Hispanics make up 54% of the reported cases in 1993. Plus, this group also has the greatest annual increase. Of heterosexuals who get HIV, 42% got it from contact with drug users. 78% of men and 74% of women who are heterosexual are African Americans or Hispanics too. Minorities account for 51% of the reported cases among adults and adolescent males and 75% in males. Of people who are less than 13 years old, 84% were minorities. In 1991, AIDS was the leading cause of death for Black and Hispanic males 25-44 and the third leading cause for women.

There is good news in this epidemic. In a survey of American sexual habits in 1994, it was found that Americans tend to have sex with partners of similar social standings. Thus it is unlikely to spread out of the poor sector. It was also found that 80% of Americans only have sex with one partner or non at all a year. However, HIV stands to be a major problem in third world countries where a majority of the population is poor.

You know you are infected if you have HIV antibodies in your blood. The virus is easily killed by alcohol and peroxide.

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