Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Decline in AIDS Deaths Slows Down CDC Report Raises Treatment Concerns

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Decline in AIDS Deaths Slows Down CDC Report Raises Treatment Concerns

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- Although AIDS deaths continue to drop, the rate of decline has been cut by more than half, raising concerns that powerful new drugs may have reached their limit in controlling the disease.

Last year researchers were stunned by reports that AIDS deaths nationwide dropped 42 percent from 1996 to 1997, results that were credited to powerful drug cocktails that dramatically increase the life expectancy of AIDS patients.

Statistics released yesterday at the first national conference on AIDS prevention show the decline in deaths slowed to 20 percent from 1997 to 1998, when AIDS killed 17,047 people.

Officials for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which released the numbers, said it's too early to tell if the current treatments have pushed AIDS deaths as low as they can go.

But one worrisome sign is that the decline in deaths last year occurred mostly in the first three months of 1998. After that, deaths leveled off for the rest of the year.

"We might continue to see that decline," said Helene Gayle, the CDC's director for HIV prevention. "But it is at least a concern that most . . . declines were in the first quarter of 1998 and not in the last quarter."

After AIDS killed 49,351 in 1995, deaths dropped 25 percent in 1996 to 36,792. They then plummeted to 21,222 deaths in 1997, a drop of 42 percent.

The numbers caused experts to toast the so-called AIDS cocktails that combine older drugs with newer medicines known as protease inhibitors. The drug combinations reduce the level of the virus in the blood so low that it can't be measured.

But some advocates pointed to the CDC's newest numbers as proof that the drugs aren't as effective as once hoped.

"Our worst fears have become a tragic reality," said Steven Fisher of the advocacy group AIDS Action. "AIDS drugs don't work for everyone and aren't a cure for anyone. …

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