DURHAM, N.C. — Forty million people are infected with HIV around the world and 1 million people in North America alone have the disease.
New research and medications changed it from an almost certain fatal disease to a chronic, but manageable one.
James Woodson has survived two death sentences. One sent him to death row as an accessory to armed robbery and murder. The state released him after 18 years, but near the end of his stay in 1989, he contracted HIV.
"Mine came from indulging in homosexuality in prison," he said.
Woodson is married and is an evangelist. He trusts God and his doctors to fight the deadly virus in his body.
"Yep -- these are my three soldiers," he said of his medication. "They're the regiment that's coming and blowing everything away, you know, so that I can endure. And with the grace of God, nothing can stop it."
Many in the medical community thought HIV might build up resistance to medications.
Dr. Charles Hick authored a study at Duke University that found the problem may not be the virus resisting drugs, but rather patients missing or delaying doses.
"That's obviously critical, because the virus grows so quickly it only needs a small interval when the amount of drug is insufficient to stop growth," Hicks said.
Those patients can still benefit from the same therapies if taken as prescribed, Hicks said.
"I don't miss them, and my wife won't allow me to miss them," Woodson said.
His faithful regimen is working.
"I've not been sick at all. And that's from 1989 until now," Woodson said.
People like Woodson, as well as more well-known figures, like Magic Johnson, are more the norm today. There is no cure for HIV, but that doesn't mean life is over.
"They're going to have to be taking medication every day -- just like someone with high blood pressure, just like someone with diabetes does," Hicks said.
In a University of North Carolina study, researchers looked at state HIV records from Jan. 2001 to May 2003.
The study found of new HIV cases in males ages 18 to 30, 88 percent were African-American men. They only make up 12 percent of the population in the state.