More than 1-million people contracted the virus that causes AIDS in recent months, 90 percent of them through heterosexual intercourse, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday.
In a chilling assessment of the spread of the AIDS epidemic, the U.N. health agency predicted the disease will soon become the main cause of premature death in many Western cities and will leave up to 10-million African children orphaned by the end of the decade.
A WHO report on the "Current and Future Dimensions of the HIV-AIDS Pandemic" said by early January, 10-million to 12-million people had caught the human immunodeficiency virus. This was 1-million higher than the previous assessment in April. The new figure included 1-million children.
It can take 10 years or longer for a person infected with HIV to develop AIDS symptoms. Most people diagnosed with AIDS die within a few years.
It said about 2-million cases of AIDS had occurred since the disease became known in the early 1980s _ 500,000 more than reported by the U.N. agency in April.
The agency estimated that about 1-million people in the United States have been infected with HIV as of early this year.
The report reiterated projections that by the year 2000, 30-million to 40-million people will have contracted HIV, which means infections could triple or quadruple in eight years.
Underlining its fears that heterosexual adults are at growing risk of AIDS, WHO said 90 percent of all new adult HIV infections since April were the result of heterosexual intercourse.
WHO said even in industrialized countries, where the virus used to be concentrated in the homosexual and drug-using population, there was a growing trend toward heterosexual transmission.
For instance, in the United States heterosexual intercourse accounted for 3 percent of all reported AIDS cases in 1985. By 1991 this doubled to 6 percent.