Then and Now: HIV and AIDS

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It first appeared more than 30 years ago, raising mystery, uncertainly and great fear. Death came quickly, with most patients dying within weeks or months of the diagnosis. Today, remarkably, it is a manageable, treatable condition.

The transformation of infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from certain death to a treatable condition with a nearly normal life expectancy is one of the great achievements of medical science.

Yet HIV and AIDS are still major causes of illness and death. More than one million people in the U.S. are living with HIV, and about 16 percent of those do not know they are infected. Some 50,000 new HIV infections occur each year, and 15,000 people die each year from AIDS in the U.S. Worldwide, 34 million people are living with HIV, with about 2.5 million new cases a year.

The March episode of Physician Focus with the Massachusetts Medical Society takes a condensed look at the struggle with HIV and AIDS over three decades with a physician who treated his first AIDS patient just days after the Centers for Disease Control first reported on the then-unnamed condition in July 1981.

Thomas Treadwell, M.D., Director of the Infectious Disease Clinic at MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham, joins program host and primary care physician Bruce Karlin, M.D. in discussing the early days of the AIDS epidemic, the medical community’s response, and how far we’ve come in treating this condition that remains a prime target of public health officials worldwide.

The conversation ranges from descriptions of what it was like during the early days of the epidemic, to the development of treatments, to the importance of continued screening and testing for virus, to the effect of HIV on patients today.

“It was really a truly horrible time,” Dr. Treadwell recalls of the early days of the disease, “certainly for the patients, but also because there was so much uncertainty. We didn’t know what was causing it, and there was no treatment.”

Today, it’s quite a different story.

Please join us this month to learn how a once deadly unknown disease became a treatable condition and how it affects patients today.

Photo: From left, Bruce Karlin, M.D., Thomas Treadwell, M.D.