HIV has become the standard against which all infectious public health threats are now measured. First with MRSA, now with hepatitis C virus (HCV), the media are abuzz with the news that another infection kills more people than HIV does. There are many reasons for this meme, perhaps the most instructive is that the resources put into research and prevention efforts for HIV are astronomical compared with those for many other infectious disease threats (a point Eli has made clearly). This investment has paid off, too, in the form of steadily falling HIV-associated mortality rates in developed nations. I look forward to the day when shark attacks, or “events of undetermined intent”, kill more people than HIV. Check out Table 2 in this document to see if your disease-of-interest kills more than HIV.
Maybe if we invested as much in research and prevention of multiple-drug resistant bacterial infections and other healthcare-associated infections, we’d see similar success.