Aids and You

AIDS and YOU (May 1987)
By Martin H. Goodman MD

(this essay is in the public domain)


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 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.


The Types