AIDS and You


Introduction:

AIDS is a life and death issue. To have the AIDS disease 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 in 10 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 rar 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.

The Types of AIDS Infection:

When the AIDS virus gets into a person\'s body, the results can be broken down
into three general types of situations: AIDS disease, ARC, and asymptomatic
seropositive condition.

The AIDS disease is characterized by having one\'s immune system devastated
by the AIDS virus. One is said to have the *disease* if one contracts
particular varieties (Pneumocystis, for example) of pneumonia, or one
of several particular varieties of otherwise rare