Two items of interest to RBC folk.

I guess AIDS is getting pretty boring. That’s too bad, since CDC data confirm that this damn disease still kills surprising numbers of Americans. In fact, the annual death toll from HIV/AIDS exceeds rivals the number of gun homicides.* More from me at the Incidental Economist….

Then there’s the pernicious role of the availability heuristic in deciding to buy a gun to protect against burglary-homicide–including a nifty made-up anecdote about having your eyeball pop out and leaving an oozing trail down the side of your face. Absolutely no children or women permitted to link my piece in the Nation.

*Commenter DenguyFL rightly notes that listed deaths with HIV/AIDS diagnoses includes deaths of any cause, some of which are obviously related to HIV infection, some obviously unrelated, and some ambiguous such as suicide hastened by disease symptoms. My own comparison with gun homicides was not based on that gross mortality number but upon the latest CDC estimates I could obtain.

Reading the comment and redoing the numbers, I do think the commenter has a point that the wording was sloppy and should be changed. In reality, the two causes of death are quite close. Some years, AIDS is higher. Some years, gun homicide is higher. For example, here’s more specific information for 2009, Roughly 9000 deaths were directly attributable to AIDS. That’s extremely close to the estimated 9,146 U.S. gun homicides for the same year.

I have changed the wording to “rivals” since the two causes of death are so close, and since the HIV/AIDS estimate is inherently difficult to pin down. I appreciate the excellent comment with a close read and the needed clarification.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

2 thoughts on “Two items of interest to RBC folk.”

  1. “…the annual death toll from HIV/AIDS” is not an accurate statement in reading the CDC’s data. “Deaths of persons with an AIDS diagnosis,” as the CDC report is worded, does not imply that death was the direct result of HIV/AIDS. simply that they had been diagnosed with AIDS. The CDC further clarifies, “Deaths of persons with an AIDS diagnosis may be due to any cause.”

    By no means am I saying HIV/AIDS is not an issue that needs to be addressed. But a site titled”The Reality Based Community” should be much more careful in the wording as this distorted reality.

  2. Sorry for the late comment, alas I’ve been traveling (plus admit to being an infrequent commenter). I would just note that one issue is that it is also uncertain to what extent that deaths from HIV go under-reported. Many people who pass away from the effects of HIV disease or the treatment are recorded as deaths from related conditions. For example a person living with HIV whose life expectancy was decreased by the effects of medications may have been recorded as dying from a heart attack (and not necessarily noted among the annual deaths due to HIV). BTW – Harold, thank you for continuing to discuss HIV/AIDS. For an awful lot of people, even in the most affected communities, it’s an issue that has fallen off the radar screen. With passage of the ACA, a new understanding of how to prevent HIV infections at the community level by reducing community viral load, adoption of the National HIV/AIDS strategy and a few other developments, I actually think we have a window in which we can begin to reduce the infection rate of this disease if we really apply ourselves to it. I’d hate to miss that opportunity.

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