Acquired Immune Difficiency Syndrome


AIDS is a life and death issue. To have the AIDS diseas is at
present a sentence of slow but inevitable death. I\'ve already lost one
friend to AIDS. I may soon lose others. My own sexual behavior and that of
many of my friends has been profoundly altered by it. In my part of the
country, one man in10 may already be carrying the AIDS virus. While the figures
may currently be less in much of the rest of the country, this is changing
rapidly. There currently is neither a cure, nor even an effective treatment,
and no vaccine either. But there are things that have been PROVEN immensely
effective in slowing the spread of this hideously lethal disease. In this
essay I hope to present this information. History and Overview
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Defficiency Disease. It is caused by a
virus. The disease originated somewhere in Africa about 20 years ago. There
it first appeared as a mysterious ailment afflicting primarily heterosexuals
of both sexes. It probably was spread especially fast by primarily female
prostitutes there. AIDS has already become a crisis of STAGGERING proportions
in parts of Africa. In Zaire, it is estimated that over twenty percent of
the adults currently carry the virus. That figure is increasing. And what
occurred there will, if no cure is found, most likely occur here among
heterosexual folks.
AIDS was first seen as a disease of gay males in this country.
This was a result of the fact that gay males in this culture in the days
before AIDS had an average of 200 to 400 new sexual contacts per year. This
figure was much higher than common practice among heterosexual (straight)
men or women. In addition, it turned out that rectal sex was a
particularly effective way to transmit the disease, and rectal sex is a
common practice among gay males. For these reasons, the disease spread in the
gay male population of this country immensely more quickly than in other
populations. It became to be thought of as a "gay disease". Because the
disease is spread primarily by exposure of ones blood to infected blood
or semen, I.V. drug addicts who shared needles also soon were identified
as an affected group. As the AIDS epidemic began to affect
increasingly large fractions of those two populations (gay males and IV drug
abusers), many of the rest of this society looked on smugly, for both
populations tended to be despised by the "mainstream" of society here.
But AIDS is also spread by heterosexual sex. In addition, it
is spread by blood transfusions. New born babies can acquire the disease from
infected mothers during pregnancy. Gradually more and more "mainstream" folks
got the disease. Most recently, a member of congress died of the disease.
Finally, even the national news media began to join in the task of
educating the public to the notion that AIDS can affect everyone.
Basic medical research began to provide a few bits of information,
and some help. The virus causing the disease was isolated and identified.
The AIDS virus turned out to be a very unusual sort of virus. Its genetic
material was not DNA, but RNA. When it infected human cells, it had its
RNA direct the synthesis of viral DNA. While RNA viruses are not that
uncommon, very few RNA viruses reproduce by setting up the flow of
information from RNA to DNA. Such reverse or "retro" flow of information
does not occur at all in any DNA virus or any other living things. Hence,
the virus was said to belong to the rare group of virues called "Retro Viruses".
Research provided the means to test donated blood for the presence of the
antibodies to the virus, astronomically reducing the chance of ones getting
AIDS from a blood transfusion. This was one of the first real breakthroughs.
The same discoveries that allowed us to make our blood bank blood supply far
safer also allowed us to be able to tell (in most cases) whether one has been
exposed to the AIDS virus using a simple blood test

Category: Science