Some call it the "forgotten epidemic." The peak of the HIV/AIDS pandemic was decades ago, but millions are still suffering from it.
The numbers of people contracting it are still close to 40,000 per year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
A recent report shows the disease afflicts our most vulnerable populations: nearly 2,500 American children age 12 and under were living with HIV in 2014, according to the CDC.
“The public perception of HIV is changing, but the disease itself is still here. It's still infecting people: 1.7 million people get infected every single year [globally]. And it’s still killing people,” said Bridget Fisher, a postdoctoral research scientist with Seattle nonprofit Center For Infectious Disease Research.
Fisher said she wanted to find a solution after meeting kids in Kenya who were orphaned after their parents died of AIDS-related complications.
“Essentially they had nowhere to go and nowhere to live and that stuck with me because this is the face of the global epidemic,” Fisher said.
What’s killing people may be complacency, researchers say. Better treatments mean people are living longer with the virus and drug therapies can even help prevent infection.
However, many health experts say the only way to end the HIV epidemic is with a vaccine.
“If we could even get a vaccine that's protective in 50 percent of people and if we combine that with people that are on antiretroviral medication then that would help stem the HIV epidemic,” Fisher said.
Her team recently entered pre-clinical trials on an orally-administered vaccine she says is promising because it covers the gamut of HIV strains.
“[An HIV patient was] producing broadly neutralizing antibodies, and these antibodies we think are the Achilles heel for HIV research,” Fisher said.
The only slowdown for now is time. Fisher says the study will take five years to complete. For a vaccine, it could be decades before one can hit the market.
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