Epidemic of fear

From The Herald (Melbourne), 16 Jul 1983:

IT is time to stop the panic. AIDS — the disease which has alarmists speaking of a new blight on mankind — is not going to get you.

This was the increasingly strident message from U.S. medical researchers this week as the AIDS phenomenon reached a fever-pitch of fear, almost all of it ill-founded.

As the National Institute of Health announced a possible research breakthrough, they also urged Americans — and the world — to take an emotionless, cool look at AIDS.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is the disease which has given a synonym for help a bad name.

It is true, researchers in Washington said, that as many as 30,000 Americans may be carriers of the disease, which is largely related to sexual practices but which in flukey situations infects the “innocent”

It will take a year or more to tell. It is — like syphilis — a disease which apparently lies dormant for a lengthy period. What is so spooky about AIDS is that no one has been cured and all who have it can expect to die.

But the same researchers here and in the National Disease Centre in Atlanta, Georgia, are cautioning against hysteria.

They are learning more and more about AIDS from the approximately 1800 known sufferers in the U.S. and the knowledge is reassuring to almost everyone.

There is no way of discussing this disease without becoming explicit. If fairly detailed explanations of clinical research related in sexual acts considered distasteful by the great majority of people are likely to offend you, then you should skip a few paragraphs.

First, if you lead a normal sex life, either heterosexual or homosexual, AIDS is probably no threat to you. Only the very promiscuous seem afflicted, apart from those one-in-ten-million chances we all run in our day-to-day lives.

As well, Washington researchers have found that male homosexuals with a past record of veneral [sic] disease are more susceptible.

Most particularly, because of the nature of homosexual fulfilment involving oral or anal sex, the risk is increased. The passing of semen in this manner is not far removed, clinically, from the transfusion of blood. Semen carries similar elements of plasma.

Even more specifically, anal intercourse puts the passive participant at greater risk because the bowels fulfil their usual bodily function of absorbing matter.

Thus, AIDS is a disease found to a large extent in promiscuous homosexual men who are the passive partners in homosexual relationships.

Most other sufferers are more easily explained. Drug addicts are prone to AIDS because of sharing blood-stained hypodermics. Haemophiliacs, the truly innocent victims, receive transfusions of infected blood.

More difficult to pin down are male Haitians, the other major generic victim. New research has found indications that AIDS also exists in parts of West Africa in some profusion. At the moment, researchers are inclined to blame tribal and voodoo rituals which involve blood exchange.

Further, the NIH study indicates strongly that the passing on of AIDS is all but impossible in normal heterosexual relations.

Working in conjunction with the centre in Georgia, virologists have found what seems to be convincing proof that the female vagina has an in-built protection against the absorption of the AIDS virus, or of viruses of that kind, from male sperm.

All the work so far indicates that normal, healthy people have little or no chance of contracting the disease. This, of course, includes homosexuals who have a single-partner sex life.

One of the statistics turned up in AIDS research is that a great many male homosexuals have the most promiscuous of all sexual experiences. It was found among the male homosexual AIDS victims that they changed partners at an average rate of about 70 a year.

Some admitted to up to 1000 different sexual partners a year.

Because of the hideous deaths the disease can inflict — the worst is a form of skin and tissue cancer in which the victim is covered in rotting sores – AIDS has put a tremendous scare through the American psyche, already reeling from the genital herpes fright of the past three years.

THE AIDS panic is being encouraged by the likes of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, leader of the Moral Majority, who has been describing it as God’s punishment on homosexuals. He has so far been unable to explain what God has against haemophiliacs.

One Atlanta researcher said be had calls from around the country asking if AIDS could be caught from lavatory seats, towels, even buttons in a lift.

One man wanted to rinse his new flat down with disinfectant because the previous occupant was homosexual.

Even worse, patients suffering from AIDS have become victims of the fear epidemic, which researchers said is as bad as the AIDS epidemic itself.

In the mistaken belief that AIDS can be readily caught from victims, prison warders, TV technicians on talk shows dealing with victims, blood bank officials and even nurses and paramedics have refused to work with AIDS victims.

Some warders dealing with homosexuals wear anti-flash suits used to ward off nuclear radiation.

There Is now a national organisation called “Gay Men With AIDS” trying to correct the public impression about the disease.

The first, small breakthrough in trying to pin down AIDS came this week when the Washington researchers announced some progress in a test-tube attempt to treat blood containing AIDS with other healthy blood particles.

What encourages virologists is that AIDS apparently is viral. That makes it open to research along well-travelled medical roads.

The serious researchers are reiterating their warning against the warnings. AIDS is a small, deadly disease, unlikely to attack the great majority of people.

If everyone heeds the message, the panic will end and normal sexual practices can return. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said (although not about AIDS or herpes), you have nothing to fear but fear itself.

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