by David Sisler

It is as bad as you feared. It is even worse.

It certainly must rank as one of the greatest coverups of all time. We are getting better. There are fewer transmissions. Fewer people are dying. We are getting AIDS under control.

Then epidemiologists with the United Nations AIDS program and the World Health Organization reported that, worldwide, one out of one hundred of us has AIDS. About 30.6 million people of reproductive age are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus.

Last year's estimate was 22.6 million infected people, or about 30 percent fewer than the current one. Oh, well, you say, that is just an increase in cases because they changed the way they counted the infected. The sad fact is, that simply is not true. Almost half of the increase is from newly acquired HIV cases, not just newly discovered ones.

Experts have been saying that the AIDS epidemic would level off, or, according to some, had already leveled off after 20 years of rapid growth. But in Africa the facts are very different. In sub-Saharan Africa 7.4 percent of people between ages 15 and 49 are infected. Roughly 530,000 infants acquired HIV from their mothers this year. In Francistown, Botswana, 43 percent of women tested at one urban clinic were infected. In Zimbabwe, where 20 percent of adults are infected, the infection rate discovered in one clinic in the city of Beit Bridge was 59 percent.

"The predictions of stabilization of the epidemic in Africa need to be revised," said Peter Piot, the executive director of UNAIDS.

In that classic understatement is a revelation. Almost from the beginning, AIDS has been about carelessness. First there was the carelessness of action. Careless sexual behavior. Multiple sexual partners. Unprotected sexual contact. Drug use and sharing needles. Then there was the carelessness of attitude. From the homosexual community, "It will never happen to me." From the heterosexual community, "It will never happen to me." And until recently from the medical community, "It is under control."

In July, government epidemiologists identified for the first time a case in which the AIDS virus was transmitted through kissing. The virus appears to have passed from an HIV-positive man to his uninfected female partner through small amounts of blood in his saliva, according to scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The blood came from the man's diseased gums. The woman also had diseased gums, which probably made her more susceptible to acquiring the virus, the CDC said.

CDC studies of households that include both infected and uninfected people have never found a case of HIV transmission that occurred through the sharing of utensils, razors or toothbrushes, or through non-deep kissing, said Scott Holmberg, an epidemiologist at CDC.

And until July 10, 1997, a case of transmission by French, or deep kissing had never been reported either.

One more report.

In the past two years, treatment of HIV infections has been revolutionized by a new drug therapy. For many patients, a powerful mix of medicines has successfully reduced virus levels to the point where they are virtually unidentifiable. Patients in some research studies have had their virus levels driven below detection for more than two years.

David Ho of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, New York, predicted that it might be possible to eradicate the virus after two to three years of treatment. This so-called cocktail drug therapy has eliminated all detectable evidence of the virus in about 50 to 80 percent of patients, often restoring health to patients with AIDS and preventing AIDS-related illnesses in people treated soon after exposure.

Many researchers were saying, "Cure!" But then less than one month ago, two medical research teams announced the discovery of a very tiny amount of dormant HIV in patients whose bloodstream had shown no apparent residue of the virus for as long as 30 months. According to Douglas Richman, an AIDS researcher at the University of California, San Diego, the discovery of the "sleeping" virus particles is causing researchers to wonder "what, if anything, can be done to destroy" the infection.

Simon Wain-Hobson of the Pasteur Institute in Paris says: "We must assume that HIV infection is forever until we know the contrary."

In the Bible, leprosy was often a symbol of sin, another incurable disease. If our civilization survives long enough for someone to write metaphors about us, AIDS may be the leprosy, the symbol of sin, of the 20th century. To die from leprosy or AIDS would be tragic, but to die with sin in your heart would be worse, because forever is very long, if you do not ask Jesus to heal your soul.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 12/6/97

Copyright 1997 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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