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Current Trends Revision of the Case Definition of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome for National Reporting--United States

Patients with illnesses that, in retrospect, were manifestations of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) were first described in the summer of 1981 (1,2). A case definition of AIDS for national reporting was first published in the MMWR in September 1982 (3,4). Since then, the definition has undergone minor revisions in the list of diseases used as indicators of underlying cellular immunodeficiency (5-8).

Since the 1982 definition was published, human T-cell lymphotropic virus type III/lymphadenopathy-associated virus (HTLV-III/LAV) has been recognized as the cause of AIDS. The clinical manifestations of HTLV-III/LAV infection may be directly attributable to infection with this virus or the result of secondary conditions occurring as a consequence of immune dysfunction caused by the underlying infection with HTLV-III/LAV. The range of manifestations may include none, nonspecific signs and symptoms of illness, autoimmune and neurologic disorders, a variety of opportunistic infections, and several types of malignancy. AIDS was defined for national reporting before its etiology was known and has encompassed only certain secondary conditions that reliably reflected the presence of a severe immune dysfunction. Current laboratory tests to detect HTLV-III/LAV antibody make it possible to include additional serious conditions in the syndrome, as well as to further improve the specificity of the definition used for reporting cases.

The current case definition of AIDS has provided useful data on disease trends, because it is precise, consistently interpreted, and highly specific. Other manifestations of HTLV-III/LAV infections than those currently proposed to be reported are less specific and less likely to be consistently reported nationally. Milder disease associated with HTLV-III/LAV infections and asymptomatic infections may be reportable in some states and cities but will not be nationally reportable. Because persons with less specific or milder manifestations of HTLV-III/LAV infection may be important in transmitting the virus, estimates of the number of such persons are of value. These estimates can be obtained through epidemiologic studies or special surveys in specific populations.

Issues related to the case definition of AIDS were discussed by the Conference of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) at its annual meeting in Madison, Wisconsin, June 2-5, 1985. The CSTE approved the following resolutions:

  1. that the case definition of AIDS used for national reporting continue to include only the more severe manifestations of HTLV-III/LAV infection; and

  2. that CDC develop more inclusive definitions and classifications of HTLV-III/LAV infection for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention, as well as for epidemiologic studies and special surveys; and

  3. that the following refinements be adopted in the case definition of AIDS used for national reporting:

    1. In the absence of the opportunistic diseases required by the current case definition, any of the following diseases will be considered indicative of AIDS if the patient has a positive serologic or virologic test for HTLV-III/LAV: (1)

disseminated histoplasmosis (not confined to lungs or lymph nodes), diagnosed by culture, histology, or antigen detection;

(2) isosporiasis, causing chronic diarrhea (over 1 month), diagnosed by histology or stool microscopy;

(3) bronchial or pulmonary candidiasis, diagnosed by microscopy or by presence of characteristic white plaques grossly on the bronchial mucosa (not by culture alone);

(4) non-Hodgkin's lymphoma of high-grade pathologic type (diffuse, undifferentiated) and of B-cell or unknown immunologic phenotype, diagnosed by biopsy;

(5) histologically confirmed Kaposi's sarcoma in patients who are 60 years old or older when diagnosed.

b. In the absence of the opportunistic diseases required by

the current case definition, a histologically confirmed diagnosis of chronic lymphoid interstitial pneumonitis in a child (under 13 years of age) will be considered indicative of AIDS unless test(s) for HTLV-III/LAV are negative. c. Patients who have a lymphoreticular malignancy diagnosed

more than 3 months after the diagnosis of an opportunistic disease used as a marker for AIDS will no longer be excluded as AIDS cases. d. To increase the specificity of the case definition,

patients will be excluded as AIDS cases if they have a negative result on testing for serum antibody to HTLV-III/LAV, have no other type of HTLV-III/LAV test with a positive result, and do not have a low number of T-helper lymphocytes or a low ratio of T-helper to T-suppressor lymphocytes. In the absence of test results, patients satisfying all other criteria in the definition will continue to be included. CDC will immediately adopt the above amendments to the case definition of AIDS for national reporting. This revision in the case definition will result in the reclassification of less than 1% of cases previously reported to CDC. The number of additional new cases reportable as a result of the revision is expected to be small. Cases included under the revised definition will be distinguishable from cases included under the old definition so as to provide a consistent basis for interpretation of trends. CDC will also develop draft classifications for disease manifestations of HTLV-III/LAV infections other than AIDS, distribute these widely for comment, and publish the results. Reported by Conference of State and Territorial Epidemiologists; AIDS Br, Div of Viral Diseases, Center for Infectious Diseases, CDC.


  1. CDC. Pneumocystis pneumonia--Los Angeles. MMWR 1981;30:250-2.

  2. CDC. Kaposi's sarcoma and Pneumocystis pneumonia among homosexual men--New York City and California. MMWR 1981;30:305-8.

  3. CDC. Hepatitis B virus vaccine safety: report of an inter-agency group. MMWR 1982;31:465-67.

  4. CDC. Update on acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)--United States. MMWR 1982;31:507-14.

  5. Jaffe HW, Bregman DJ, Selik RM. Acquired immune deficiency syndrome in the United States: the first 1,000 cases. J Infect Dis 1983;148:339-45.

  6. Jaffe HW, Selik RM. Acquired immune deficiency syndrome: is disseminated aspergillosis predictive of underlying cellular immune deficiency? (Reply to letter). J Infect Dis 1984;149:829.

  7. Selik RM, Haverkos HW, Curran JW. Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) trends in the United States, 1978-1982. Am J Med 1984;76:493-500.

  8. CDC. Update: acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)--United States. MMWR 1984;32:688-91.

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