The number of children with AIDS could rise from its current level of 20 cases in Los Angeles to several hundred in the next few years and place new burdens on an already overloaded system of caring for AIDS patients, a medical specialist said Saturday.
Dr. Joseph A. Church, co-director of the Pediatric AIDS program at Los Angeles Childrens Hospital, issued his gloomy forecast as county health officials reported that 129 new cases of AIDS had been diagnosed in September, ending a three-month decline. One of the new cases is a child.
AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is a lethal virus that attacks the body's immune system, so weakening it that the victim falls prey to repeated infections and eventually dies.
Basis for Forecast
Church, who was speaking at a conference on AIDS in children and adolescents, said the number of children with AIDS will increase because of two factors:
- More of the 215 children in Los Angeles whose blood shows they have the virus but who have no other symptoms will come down with a full-blown case.
- More infected mothers--typically drug abusers who become infected through sharing contaminated needles--will pass on their disease to newborns as AIDS spreads among Los Angeles drug users. About half the babies of infected mothers develop AIDS, he said.
Church said the experience of New York health authorities suggests Los Angeles will soon experience a rise in AIDS among intravenous drug abusers and their infants.
In New York, 80% to 90% of the intravenous drug abusers are infected with AIDS and infected mothers are having between 500 to 1,000 babies a year who have AIDS, he said. Drug abuser mothers ill with AIDS abandon their infected babies at a high rate, further straining public health resources.
In Los Angeles, the AIDS infection rate among intravenous drug abusers is 10%, but, Church said, studies showing that needle-sharing here is as prevalent as in New York indicate that the AIDS infection rate among intravenous drug abusers soon will rise and lead to an increase in infant AIDS.
"It is going to be a significant increase. You are talking about 200 to 300 (cases)," he said. "We are four years behind New York."
In an optimistic note, Church said he expected to see a decline in new pediatric AIDS cases stemming from blood transfusions. Testing of blood bank donations has virtually eliminated the possibility that a transfusion will transmit AIDS, he said.
The Los Angeles AIDS statistics released Saturday bring the cumulative total to 3,677 known cases. County health officials explained the September rise over August as a "quirk probably caused by the fact that many physicians were on vacation during that summer month so fewer people were examined."
Although the spread of the virus among homosexual and bisexual males has slowed, according to a UCLA study released last week, the county statistics show that they continue to be the largest at-risk group, accounting for 91% of all Los Angeles AIDS cases. About 11% of the cases, or 403, are among admitted intravenous drug users; information about the possible intravenous drug use of another 30%, or 1,139, is not available.