New AIDS cases are being reported in the United States at the rate of one every 14 minutes, and an estimated 365,000 cases will have been reported by 1992, the latest U.S. government figures show.
Dr. James Curran, director of the AIDS program at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, said Monday that it is difficult to tell whether the AIDS epidemic is leveling off.But he also said that, in his view, it's not a very important question.
"We had a thousand cases reported in the United States last week," he said in an interview during the Fourth International Conference on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. "Does it matter whether it's going up or not?
"It might level off like lung cancer or heart disease - and that's not good," Curran added.
He said an increasing number of people are contracting AIDS through heterosexual contact in the United States but that no explosive increases in heterosexual spread of AIDS are likely.
"The data is too incomplete for firm conclusions," Curran said.
In Europe, 12,221 cases of AIDS have been reported as of March 31, more than double the number reported a year earlier, Jean-Baptiste Brunet of Claude Bernard Hospital in Paris said Monday.
AIDS among drug abusers is increasing rapidly in Spain, France and Italy, he said. An estimated 300,000 to 800,000 people in 30 European countries are now believed to be infected with the AIDS virus, Brunet said.
On Sunday, the director of the World Health Organization's AIDS program told the conference's opening session that as many as several hundred million people around the world may be at risk of getting AIDS, which is now present in virtually every country in the world.
"No country is immune," Dr. Jonathan Mann said.
"We do not - we cannot - have precise numbers, but it is likely that several hundred million people around the world may have behaviors which make them potentially vulnerable to infection with HIV," said Mann, one of 7,000 scientists and doctors attending the largest AIDS conference ever held.
He estimated that 150,000 people will develop AIDS in 1988, doubling in one year the estimated number of cases in the history of the epidemic.
Mann painted a grim picture of the AIDS epidemic but noted that the world has never seen a mobilization of the kind that has been mounted to fight the deadly disease.
As an example of the ferocity with which AIDS can spread among drug abusers, Mann described the situation in Bangkok, Thailand.
Two years ago, virtually no one in the city had antibodies to the AIDS virus. The presence of AIDS antibodies indicates an individual has been infected with the virus.
In 1987, 1 percent of the population had antibodies to AIDS. In the first three months of this year, the infection had spread to 16 percent of Bangkok's population.
"This epidemic curve - already documented in New York City, Edinburgh and Milan - threatens every community of IV (ntravenous) drug users in the world," Mann said.
"AIDS is changing the world," he said. "It has become a key part of the history of our time."
The number of AIDS cases officially reported to the World Health Organization stood at 96,433 as of June 1.