It was 1981 when physicians began reporting that gay men were suffering from rare illnesses usually seen only in people with severely weakened immune systems. The mysterious condition that caused it was called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, and experts soon realized that it could affect anyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. It rapidly became an epidemic. At its peak, AIDS was responsible for 50,876 annual deaths in the United States. That was in 1995.

A lot has changed since then. Antiretroviral drugs have been developed to fight AIDS by suppressing its associated virus, HIV. These drugs not only make it possible for people with HIV to live just as long as someone who's not infected, but they've even been shown to keep HIV from spreading to others. A 2011 study found that HIV-infected but otherwise healthy people who take antiretrovirals can limit their transmission of the virus by 96 percent, and a 2010 study found that even uninfected men can take the drugs preventatively to reduce their risk of infection.

Those advances have slashed the HIV/AIDS death toll considerably. The CDC reports that in 2014, only 6,721 people died from HIV/AIDS in the United States. That's an 87% drop from the peak death rate in 1995. There's still a lot to be done—global statistics, while also showing improvement, aren't quite as sunny, and efforts to get the life-saving drugs into the hands of the underserved populations who need them most are still underway. But in a world where it can sometimes seem like nothing ever goes right, it's good to take a step back and see how far we've come. Learn more about HIV/AIDS in the videos below.

30 Years Of The U.S. AIDS Epidemic

Follow the timeline of AIDS, from its discovery to today.

The Science of HIV/AIDS

Find out how it infects a human body.

The Global Fight Against AIDS

Hear about what happened at the 20th international AIDS conference in Melbourne.

Written by Ashley Hamer November 28, 2016

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