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Why we still need to worry about AIDS

The Doctors | 12/1/2012, 7 p.m.

USA WEEKEND Health

Thirty years ago, a brief report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described five young men with a rare form of pneumonia usually seen in people with severely depressed immune systems -- the men were previously healthy, the report noted; they were also "all active homosexuals." Experts later learned those were the first documented cases of AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome -- a disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and one that has since killed more than 33 million people worldwide.

Three decades later, there's no cure for AIDS and no HIV vaccine, and though prevention efforts have been effective, about 50,000 Americans still are infected every year, recent estimates show. Gay men still account for the most new cases, and infections among young, African-American gay and bisexual men are rising. To be safe, people should:

Reduce risky behaviors.
Having multiple sex partners and not using condoms are two of the most common ways HIV is transmitted. At best, abstain from sexual activity until you're in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner. Otherwise, limit your number of sexual partners (the fewer you have, the less likely you'll encounter someone with HIV) and use latex condoms every time ("natural" or lambskin versions don't provide sufficient protection).

Get tested.
The CDC estimates that 20% of people with HIV in the United States don't know they're infected. Everyone ages 13 to 64 should be tested at least once; if you are at increased risk for HIV, get tested at least once a year.

Seek treatment.
If you think you were exposed to HIV, see your doctor immediately -- sometimes HIV medications can prevent infection if they are started quickly.

The Doctors is an Emmy-winning daytime TV show with pediatrician Jim Sears, OB-GYN Lisa Masterson, ER physician Travis Stork, and plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon. Check www.thedoctorstv.com for local listings.