Big medical advances seen 25 years after Magic Johnson's AIDS diagnosis

DUARTE, California (KABC) -- Twenty five years ago, Magic Johnson held a press conference and told a room of stunned reporters he had tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS.

Johnson has remained healthy thanks to advances in medicine.

Many can recall the historical announcement when the Lakers player said: "I think sometimes we think it's only gay people who can get it. It's not going to happen to me. And here I am saying that it can happen to anybody."

AIDS and cancer researcher Dr. Alexandra Levine, chief medical officer at City of Hope remembers thinking how brave Johnson was to come forward.

"At that time, it was considered to be almost a universally-fatal disease," Levine said.

She says it wasn't until 1996 that the combination of anti-viral drugs became available.

In that year, the death rate dropped 80 percent.

"It took a little time. It took the money. It took the will of the country to go in that direction. And it took the strength of the advocacy community to make it happen," said Levine.

Johnson this week tweeted out his thanks to his many supporters including physician Dr. Michael Mellman for breaking the news to him 25 years ago.

In that time, researchers have been working to find a cure.

Dr. Levine and her colleagues are investigating what role stem cell transplants might play in tricking HIV.

"We're trying to cure that infection by manipulating the stem cells in such a way that they will be resistant to HIV if they see that virus," she said.

Today AIDS is treated as a chronic disease, managed by a cocktail of medication. But 25 years later, Levine said the best medicine is still prevention.

"The virus seems to be transmitted more commonly right now in young people without a doubt at all. Young people and young people of color."

At that 1991 press conference, Johnson stated, "I want people and young people to realize they can practice safe sex."

Today, the average lifespan of someone who is HIV positive is almost the same as someone not infected.

Johnson stayed true to his word to be an HIV health advocate.

And Dr. Levine believes many people are still alive because of him.
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