I heard a news report earlier this week regarding the latest numbers on the spread of AIDS. Apparently, the disease is growing in the South faster than ever. It made me think of the whole issue in a way I hadn’t before.
Why are people in this country still contracting AIDS?
Or to put it another way, why is AIDS still considered to be a major health issue in the USA.
My question is restricted to the US. Africa, as I understand it, has an entire different set of issues that I cannot begin to fathom.
When you step back and look at it, the spread of AIDS really doesn’t make a lot of sense. The disease is:
1. Really fairly difficult to contract. It doesn’t sneak up on you and catch you when you’re not looking. Unlike the current disease de jour, the H1N1 flu, you can’t catch it by having someone sneeze on you, by shaking hands, or even sharing a drink or cigarette. For the most part, a person has to engage in some specific activities to be in danger of contracting AIDS. According to the CDC’s statistics for new AIDS cases in 2007 (the most recent year I could find), four categories of activities accounted for 99% of the causes of transmission.
a.) Male to male sexual contact
b.) Injection drug use
c.) Male to male sexual contact AND injection drug use
d.) Heterosexual contact with a person known to have or be at high risk for HIV infection.
Hemophilia, blood transfusion and perinatal exposure add up to just 1% of the new cases.
Despite the best efforts of some “AIDS activists” over the past 25 years to portray AIDS as a disease that can strike anyone, that is clearly not the case. As the numbers show, if you don’t engage in high-risk, unprotected sex or use IV drugs, you aren’t in serious risk.
2. It is relatively easy to prevent. Just using condoms for male-to-male or high-risk sex and and staying away from IV drugs would prevent nearly all new cases.
3. All this information is very well known. In the early to mid 1980s the argument could be made that the causes and prevention measures for AIDS were not well known. That was a quarter of a century ago. AIDS and HIV have probably received more air-time, column inches and outdoor advertising space than any other cause I can think of, with the possible exception of breast cancer with its massive PR machine. Is there anyone who is old enough to spell AIDS and use a TV remote control who doesn’t know how AIDS is spread and how to keep from contracting it?
What this means is for nearly all cases, contracting AIDS is not an accident, a random occurance or an “act of God.” A person has to undertake some specific activities to contract AIDS. The victim acquires the disease because he or she decided the upside of participating in unprotected, high-risk sex and/or IV drug use outweighs the risk of contracting AIDS.
Don’t take this to mean that I don’t have sympathy for those who are suffering from this disease, especially the unsuspecting wife of a philandering husband or another segment of the 1%. For most AIDS victims, I have the same sympathy I would have for someone with cancer or heart disease — actually, maybe slightly less. My sympathy for them would be more in line with a life-long smoker with lung cancer, the tremendously obese person with heart disease or the alcoholic with a failing liver.
So what can public health officials do to prevent people from undertaking short-sighted and self destructive actions? I certainly don’t know. Does anyone?