LOS ANGELES (KTLA) — A recent poll shows most people no longer consider AIDS a major health problem.
That’s despite the fact that more than an estimated one million Americans are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
As new infections continue to soar, could there be a cure on the horizon?
Fifteen years ago, AIDS-related illnesses were the number one cause of death.
But with recent medical breakthroughs, in 25 to 44 years olds today, it’s now the 6th leading cause of death.
Does this mean researchers are putting an end to AIDS?
Since the AIDS epidemic began in 1981, it has killed more than 30 million people worldwide
In the early years, the unknown virus was untreatable, feared and fatal. Often, those with it were discriminated against and ostracized from society.
But HIV-positive Steve Pieters says that, with the evolution of education — plus anti-viral drugs — a lot has changed in 32 years.
“I was the very first patient to go on the first anti-HIV drug in 1985,” he says.
Due to his weakened immune system, and like many who test positive for HIV, this minister also developed lymphoma, a cancer that affects the white blood cells.
“I did actually die and I had a near death experience and they were able to bring me back,” Pieters recalls.
Pieters says dying was not on his ‘”to-do” list, so he checked in to Duarte’s City of Hope, a facility nationally recognized for its biomedical research.
The experts there put Pieters on a life saving drug cocktail.
“My day is built around taking my medications. There are 30 drugs that keep me alive,” Pieters says.
“My goal was to stay along live enough for them to manage it and I did and I am still alive,” the Silver Lake man says.
With cutting edge gene therapy plus powerful pharmaceuticals, researchers consider this City of Hope patient living proof of what’s called a “functional cure.”
“With antiviral therapy life expectancy is 22 years of diagnosis,” says Daniela Castanotta, Ph.D, with the City of Hope.
A true medical miracle since in 1981, when most were only given three days to live.
“I was given eight months to live in 1984,” Pieters recalls. “They told me I wouldn’t’ live to see 985, so to see 2013 is a remarkable thing, a total miracle.”
City of Hope tells us they are looking for a true cure sometime in the next 20 years, if not sooner.
–Jessica Holmes, KTLA News