Health officials predicted Wednesday that the number of infants exposed to the AIDS virus will increase by 40% within the next two years in New York state, taxing pediatric facilities in New York City and straining the social fabric of some of its minority neighborhoods.
Epidemiologists said that while they believe 1,000 babies may be born with antibodies to the AIDS virus this year, they expect the number to rise to 1,400 in 1989. According to a recent New York state study, one out of every 60 women giving birth in New York City is infected with AIDS. In the Bronx, where the problem is most severe, one in every 43 babies tests positive for AIDS antibodies. In Manhattan, one in 51 babies tests positive.
'Virus Is Ahead of Us'
"The virus is still running ahead of us," Dr. Stephen C. Joseph, New York City's health commissioner, warned on Wednesday. "We need to get ahead of the virus."
Physicians say the actual percentage of babies who will develop full-fledged cases of AIDS after antibodies are discovered in the blood is uncertain. But symptoms have arisen years after birth.
The state study, based on blood tests performed on 19,157 infants, showed that acquired immune deficiency syndrome had become the chief threat to the health of infants in New York City. Most mothers contract the disease by sharing contaminated needles in drug abuse or through sex with an infected drug user.
"If you drew two maps of the city and you put the prevalence of IV drug use on one map and another map you put the prevalence of infants who are serum positive, those two maps would overlap," Joseph said.
Sees Added Health Burden
"It is the connection between IV drug use, poverty, minority status and AIDS infection in infants. AIDS is an enormous additional health burden in minority communities and it is going to grow and grow and it is going to put all sorts of stresses on the social fabric." Joseph also warned that such a dramatic increase in AIDS infections in infants could create additional burdens for pediatric units in hospitals serving minority communities.
The study represented the first phase of a program to anonymously test the blood of 100,000 people in New York state for antibodies to the AIDS virus.
"Results of the first 19,157 newborn blood specimens demonstrate an alarming HIV (AIDS virus) infection rate among women of childbearing age living in New York City," reported Dr. David Axelrod, New York state's health commissioner.
"In New York City, the rate of infection is 1.64%, or one in every 60 women giving birth," the state study reported.
It showed that 148 positive test results came from blood samples taken from more than 9,000 newborns in New York City. In contrast, there were only 13 positive results from samples outside the city.
"Projecting these rates on an annual basis, more than 2,300 HIV-infected women will give birth and an estimated 1,000 infected infants will be born in New York state in 1988," the state health department predicted. Physicians estimate that between 30% and 50% of infected mothers give birth to infected infants.
Show Infection 5 Years Ago
Joseph said that in many cases, the tests were revealing the results of infection with the AIDS virus five years ago.
"It's going to get a lot worse," he said. " . . . The message is don't shoot drugs, and if you do, don't share needles. You could also infect your sexual partner."
Laboratory tests for AIDS can detect the presence of antibodies to the AIDS virus, showing a person has been exposed to it. The tests do not show the presence of disease or whether a person will develop AIDS.
Bronx center provides haven for children with AIDS. View, Page 1.