Top Five Emerging Health Threats


Early HIV Symptoms

• Fever
• Headache
• Fatigue
• Swollen lymph glands
• Rash

Later HIV Symptoms

• Swollen lymph nodes
• Diarrhea
• Weight loss
• Fever
• Shortness of breath

An estimated 1,185,000 people in the United States are infected with AIDS or the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and more than 25 million people have died from the worldwide pandemic since 1981. Of the 56,000 people who will be infected with HIV in the U.S. this year, nearly 18,000 will be women.

AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection. The immune system deteriorates to a point where the body is unable to ward off disease or infection. 

Regan Hofmann, 42, is the author of I Have Something to Tell You and editor-in-chief of POZ magazine. In 1996, she was infected with HIV by a man who was unaware that he had the virus.

"I was newly divorced, I was on the pill and didn't think I was at risk for HIV," she says. "I was worried about getting pregnant again. I was really stunned.

"We believe that women can get pregnant from one act of unprotected sex, but I only had unprotected sex with this man twice and got HIV," Regan adds.

Regan was diagnosed with the virus after finding a bump on her groin and seeing her doctor. "I lucked out," she says. "I had this bump on my groin, and otherwise I probably wouldn't have gotten tested, and it saved my life, because I found out early."

If you are sexually active, it is extremely important to get tested for HIV.

"Anytime you have unprotected intercourse, you've got to get tested. Even with protected intercourse, if you've had multiple partners, you should be tested," OB-GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson says.

Testing for HIV has never been easier. To demonstrate, ER physician Dr. Travis Stork, pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears and plastic surgeon Dr. Andrew Ordon take an OraQuick Rapid HIV test by OraSure, which is administered at an HIV certified testing facility. The test, which requires a quick swab of fluid around the gums and provides results within in 20 minutes.

Climate Change

Pediatrician Dr. Aaron Bernstein, a faculty member at the Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment and co-author of Sustaining Life, explains how climate change can affect your health and how you can help keep it from progressing.

Depending on the state, two different HIV tests may be available. One is a confidential test, but patients still must provide personal information such as name, date of birth and social security number.

"Confidential [testing], just like our records in the hospital are confidential, meaning that your name is there and somebody could have access," Dr. Lisa says. "But the person [testing] is assuring you that it will be confidential and it will be kept secretive."

Another option is to take an anonymous HIV test, which allows a person to be identified by a number rather than his or her name. Check with your health care provider to find out what testing options are available in your area.

Modern HIV treatments include using a combination of drugs to prevent the replication of the virus. Dr. Travis uses an animation to demonstrate how the drugs work.

"The sooner we can diagnose you, the earlier the treatment and better the outcomes," says Dr. Mehret Mandefro, founding director of TruthAIDS.

MRSA Symptoms

Skin Infection
• Bump or infected area that resembles a spider bite
• Swollen
• Red
• Painful
• Pus-filled

Lung Infection
• Shortness of breath
• Fever
• Cough
• Chills

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is a staph infection that affects people of all ages.

The two known types of MRSA are healthcare-associated (HA-MRSA) and community-associated (CA-MRSA). HA-MRSA is found in healthcare facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes, while CA-MRSA is found in public areas such as locker rooms and gyms, homes and schools. People who have contracted MRSA typically complain of what looks like a spider bite but is actually a pus-filled boil.

"Typically, staph starts as a skin infection, either as a pimple, a boil or an abscess," Dr. Ordon says. "In most cases, it's not life-threatening, but if it does invade your lungs, organs, bloodstream, it potentially is a life-threatening disease."

MRSA is dangerous because it is resistant to certain antibiotics and requires immediate medical attention.

Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York and founder of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, reveals shocking MRSA statistics and shares tips on how to protect yourself.

Active TB Symptoms

• Weight loss
• Loss of appetite
• Fatigue
• Fever
• Night sweats
• Chills

TB of the Lungs Symptoms

• Lasting cough
• Coughing up blood
• Chest Pain

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than two billion people, one-third of the world's population, are infected with dormant Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that cause tuberculosis (TB). A disease that usually affects the lungs, TB is caused by airborne germs. TB has been discovered in Egyptian mummies and has affected populations for more than 2,000 years. It causes approximately 5,000 deaths per day now.

The disease can lie dormant and not cause any symptoms in the carrier. If a person is carrying TB, he or she may not be contagious, but certain conditions can trigger the bacteria to become active and multiply, destroying tissue in the body and causing health problems.

"When [the TB] bacteria start to grow, because of stress, because of HIV infections, then it becomes active," explains Dr. Lee Reichman, founding executive director of the New Jersey Medical School Global Tuberculosis Institute. "The difference between dormant and active [TB] is that active is transmissible and has a 50-percent chance of killing you if you don't take treatment.

"TB has a history of neglect; it has an image problem," Dr. Reichman says. "People don't get excited about it like HIV or MRSA, yet TB is really the biggest killer of AIDS patients worldwide, and TB is preventable and curable."

Treatment for TB includes taking a combination of several drugs for six to 12 months. It is vital to take the drugs exactly as prescribed and to finish the medicine.

A more dangerous strain of the disease, drug-resistant TB, is more difficult to treat, however, because it is resistant to nearly all first-line drugs used to treat TB.

"The reason that TB is coming back, the reason we have drug-resistant strains, is purely because of neglect," Dr. Reichman says. "If we had good drugs that could treat a patient in a week, we wouldn't have drug-resistant strains. Drug-resistant strains only occur because a doctor didn't treat the patient properly or a patient doesn't take [his or her] medicine properly, or is infected by someone whose doctor didn't treat them properly or who doesn't take [his or her] medicine properly.

"Drug-resistant strains are extraordinarily difficult to treat," Dr. Reichman adds.

The germs that cause TB can be spread from person to person through the air. If you have symptoms of active TB, are in contact with someone who does or work in a group setting, such as a prison, hospital, nursing home or homeless shelter, you should be tested.

Doctors can test for TB with the Mantoux tuberculin skin test, which is performed by injecting a small amount tuberculin fluid into the skin. If there is a reaction within 48 to 72 hours, the patient has been exposed to TB.

H1N1 Virus

The H1N1 flu pandemic that began in April 2009 turned out to be less severe than originally predicted. Some experts, however, say another wave of the virus is on its way and receiving the vaccine is an important step to prevent infection.

"H1N1 is preventable," Dr. Ordon says. "If you're in one of the high-risk groups, such as kids, adolescents, anyone with underlying medical problems and pregnant women, the vaccine is out there. The vaccine is safe!"

H1N1 Prevention

• Get vaccinated
• Avoid contact with others if you or they are sick
• Stay home if you are sick
• Wash your hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water
• Reduce exposure in the household

Find out more about the seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines.