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Last time we have heard about it, it was in the “progress advertising” in the 80’s. With a purple, vintage frame drawn around the different characters in videos one could see on every screen. A visible symbol of a devastating and little-known disease with obscure origins, whose spread was favored  by the extremes and lack of scruples both in politics and society of that decade: drugs, free sex, and scandals in health services. A disease that cross-cuts society, not confined to the less advantaged strata of the population, but ready to strike everyone, even famous names: from the rock star Freddy Mercury to the basketball star Magic Johnson (miraculously still alive) and the porn star John Holmes.

In a short time AIDS was branded the “plague of the twentieth century” and for good reason: in US alone, in 1984 were diagnosed 22,996 cases and 12,592 people died. This emergency triggered a psychosis that turned quickly into exclusion and stigmatization of entire sections of the population: black, foreigners, drug addicts. For the first time in modern times a disease became the reason of a social conflict. On the one hand, the healthy, with their obsessions and prejudices, on the other hand, the sick, looked at with suspicion and left alone.

Then serenity came back, or almost so. Scientific progress has developed therapies able to lengthen survival and several vaccines have been tested, some of which gave positive results. But a cure does not exist yet: keep it in mind. Especially today when HIV is back to frighten us. According to the latest report of the World Health Organization, published in view of the World AIDS Day celebrated on December 1, in 2014 were diagnosed more than 142 thousand cases of HIV infection, the highest peak since the 80’s. A slap in the face of those who thought it was possible to underestimate the problem, confine it to the poorer areas of the planet (Africa), with that subtle so-what attitude which characterizes us in the west.  Recent data are alarming and indicate that the growth of the epidemic is led by the eastern part of the old continent, where the number of the newly diagnosed has more than doubled over the last 10 years. Heterosexual transmission is responsible for the increase in those areas; also transmission through syringes remains substantial among drug users. “Despite all the efforts to combat HIV, in a year, the European Region has scored more than 142,000 new infections, the highest number ever. This is a serious problem – Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe has said – we call on the European countries to intervene and curb the HIV epidemic once and for all”. This research becomes a blow to the European Union whose reaction ”has not been efficient enough’.

Red Alert also and especially in Italy. With over 30 from the patient 0, Italy has the highest number of HIV infections in western Europe. Last year were diagnosed 3,608 new cases (6.0 new HIV-positive results per 100,000 residents), about 60% of which in an advanced stage. The most worrying data,  however, concern 25% of infected people who are unaware of their condition and who might transmit the virus without knowing it. This, according to the experts from the Association of Italian Clinical Microbiologists, is a serious problem  because a diagnosis obtained during the early stages is of utmost importance for getting rapid access to antiretroviral therapy. Therefore, researchers say, we must make everything in our power to raise the sensitivity of those people who are potentially at risk so as to make them undergo diagnostic tests as soon as possible. A HIV test and an early diagnosis of the infection are essential in order to combat the spread of an infection that, although treatable, is chronic.

The age groups that are most at risk are all those sexually active and, especially those between 30 and 39 years of age. Whereas in the past its transmission was connected mainly to drug addiction, at present 84% of infections are caused by one-night stands. “This being the situation, it is increasingly important to implement information and prevention projects, as well as projects for early and complete diagnosis –  Pierangelo Clerici, President of AMCLI, has explained – distribution and availability of tests for the diagnosis of the infection is a top priority and the laboratories of Clinical Microbiology are in possess of tests that allow not only to diagnose the infection, but make possible also subsequent accurate therapies and the identification of the resistant viral strains”. Perhaps, the worst is not yet behind us…

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