In the war against diseases, hope is often met with painfully slow results -- if any at all.
Advancements against afflictions such as cancer and muscular dystrophy, for instance, seem to come by fractions of inches rather than leaps and bounds. Not so with AIDS, however.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta show that AIDS deaths nationwide have dropped from 49,351 in 1995 to 17,047 in 1998, or by 65 percent.
AIDS cases nationally dropped from 68,734 in 1995 to 44,289 in 1998, or about 35 percent. Florida's numbers closely resemble the nation's, with AIDS deaths falling 65 percent during the same period (4,336 in 1995 to 1,547 in 1998). Reported AIDS cases declined 32 percent (8,022 in 1995 to 5,461 in 1998).
In addition, the numbers of AIDS deaths and reported cases have declined in each of the main ethnic categories monitored by the CDC and Florida: white, African-American and Hispanic.
The big reason? Better treatment.
The widespread introduction of new drug cocktails in 1996 -- two older AIDS drugs plus a newer class of medicines called protease inhibitors -- have revolutionized AIDS care.
People often start on these drugs when they learn they are infected and before they get sick. The medicines can drive the amount of the virus in the bloodstream so low that it can't be measured. Many people who were deathly ill when the new treatment came along now appear to be in better health and are living longer.
That's good news for a disease that in the 1980s spurred frightening predictions. In 1987, for instance, talk show host Oprah Winfrey declared that 50 million heterosexual Americans would be dead from AIDS by 1990. Others said …