AIDS is caused by HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), which progressively destroys the body's immune system. Since 1981, more than 900,000 cases have been reported in the United States. It leaves people susceptible to opportunistic infections -- diseases that would ordinarily not make a person sick. AIDS is growing most rapidly among minority populations, especially African-American women and children.

An Introduction to AIDS

AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) was first reported in the United States in 1981 and has since become a major worldwide epidemic. It is caused by HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). By killing or damaging cells of the body's immune system, HIV progressively destroys the body's ability to fight infections and certain cancers. People diagnosed with AIDS may get life-threatening diseases, called opportunistic infections, which are caused by microbes, such as viruses or bacteria, that usually do not make healthy people sick.

How Prevalent Is It?

More than 900,000 cases have been reported in the United States since 1981. As many as 950,000 Americans may be infected with HIV, one-quarter of whom are unaware of their infection.

AIDS and Minorities

The epidemic is growing most rapidly among minority populations, and is a leading killer of African-American males ages 25 to 44. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), AIDS affects nearly seven times more African Americans and three times more Hispanics than whites. In recent years, an increasing number of African-American women and children are being affected by HIV/AIDS. In 2003, two-thirds of U.S. cases in both women and children were among African Americans.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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