ATLANTA -- Despite a historic drop in AIDS cases and deaths in the United States in the last few years, the rate at which people are becoming infected with HIV has held relatively steady, the government said Thursday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that many people are not heeding warnings about unsafe sex and drug use.
"It shows the need for sustained prevention. What we have seen is that with every generation, you have to start at the beginning," said Terry Hammond, a CDC spokeswoman.
Using statistics from the 25 states that report infection rates, the CDC estimated a 2 percent decline from 1995 to 1996 in the number of new HIV cases diagnosed among people 13 or older.
AIDS deaths, meanwhile, dropped 21 percent in 1996 and were down an additional 44 percent in the first half of 1997, according to figures previously released by the CDC.
"This is a case of the glass is half full," said Cornelius Baker of the National Association of People with AIDS. "People are living longer. That's great. But with a steady infection rate, it means the epidemic isn't going away."
People diagnosed with HIV are not considered AIDS cases until they actually develop symptoms of the disease. So delaying the onset of AIDS and prolonging the lives of AIDS patients can reduce the number of AIDS deaths even while there's little change in the rate of new HIV cases.
"We're not seeing good news in the fact that we are not seeing a substantial decline," in the HIV infection rate, said Dr. Patricia Fleming, a CDC researcher.
The CDC estimated that HIV cases between 1994 and mid-1997 dropped slightly among men but increased among women.
The study also showed HIV infections among young people overall had leveled off, but minorities now make up a greater portion of that group. Of the 7,200 cases of HIV reported among 13- to 24-year-olds, 63 percent were black and 5 percent Hispanic.
Ms. Fleming warned that not all states were required to report infection rates. The new figures don't include California and New York, so the true national infection rate could be higher or lower, she said. The CDC wants all states to create a name-based HIV reporting system.
"You need to know about the front end of the epidemic if you're trying to find out what's going on with the disease," said Eve Mokotoff, chief of the HIVAIDS epidemiology unit at the Michigan Department of Community Health in Detroit.
Michigan is among the states that require their clinics and hospitals to report the names of people infected with HIV.