THE RISK OF A FEW KNOWN CASES
by David Sisler
Three weeks after Magic Johnson rejoined the Los Angels Lakers, boxer Tommy Morrison confirmed that he has contracted the virus which causes AIDS. Since the night Magic led the Lakers to a 128-118 victory in his first comeback game, the word in the media has been: "there is almost no chance of contracting HIV on the hard wood floors of basketball arenas."
Magic Johnson is a gifted athlete, of that there is no question. So is Tommy Morrison. Their skills are not the question. Nor, even their right to participate in their chosen fields of labor. What is extremely troublesome, is the almost casual air with which we now seem to be treating AIDS. To downplay the seriousness of the AIDS pandemic is rash, reckless, and potentially deadly.
But that is exactly what is happening. In a Time magazine cover story, Steve Wulf wrote, in defense of Magic Johnson's return, "There are still a few holdouts on the side of ignorance (emphasis added)." That kind of rhetoric will kill people!
Christine Gorman, in a later Time article, further depreciates the danger with her statement, "Healthy athletes don't usually have that much HIV in their blood anyway (emphasis added)." Her proclamation begs the question, how much of this always fatal virus do you need to get into your blood before you become infected?
The media sited one instance of a fighter who was infected by another fighter, and identified it, correctly, as one of the few known cases of transmission through means other than sexual contact, contaminated blood or needles, and from mother to unborn child. But with the words "few known cases" they dismiss the risk.
Because "few known cases" have been reported, the possibility of contracting AIDS by means other than the recognized, classic means, is being discounted by almost everyone.
What about the so-called "few known cases?" Just because it has never been reported, does that automatically make us all safe? And what about people who understand the risk, specifically medical professionals, who take all possible precautions, have one unexpected "incident" and become infected?
Meet Lynda Arnold, a nurse in Pennsylvania. She was changing an unshielded IV catheter when a sudden move by her patient forced the needle into her skin. Lynda's story was reported as a "one-in-a-million" infection. It was not. There were 46 cases of job-related HIV transmission in the health care industry in 1995.
Meet a physician, whose name was not given in a Washington Post article. During surgery he contracted the hepatitis B virus from a patient and he has unknowingly infected at least 19 patients with the virus. The doctor wore gloves and followed safety precautions, but he and a score of others were infected. It was obviously not an HIV contamination, but could an HIV contamination have occurred after all of the safety procedures were followed? Have we forgotten the Florida dentist who was HIV positive and the five patients who contracted AIDS because of exposure to him?
The media's recent cavalier attitude, dismissing the danger of infection with a disease that is always fatal is dangerously irresponsible. One of the worst examples is the group "Coalition for Positive Sexuality." Their target is high school students.
"Safe sex is always better," the Coalition states. "It's fun, and you don't have to worry as much."
How much worry is enough about a disease that when contracted, will kill you?
The Coalition pontificates again: "Condoms ... are the only way to protect yourself and your partner from STD and HIV, but they're not foolproof. You've got to use them correctly every time you have sex."
Use condoms, they say. But they're not foolproof, they say. You have to use them correctly, they say. Ask the 25 percent of women who used condoms as their only means of birth control, and who became pregnant when a correctly used condom failed, about the safety and protection afforded by condoms. And they want kids to go ahead and have sex, just as long as they or their partner is wearing a condom! Point a revolver to my head, but please, for my protection, take out one of the bullets!
The commentary you have just read does not call for quarantine or for a denial of the right to work. You have not read a supplication to stop having sex. You have read a plea for sanity, caution and prudence.
Call me "Chicken Little" if it will make you feel better, but every 13 minutes, another person in the United States is infected with HIV. Too many people have already died. I have lost two friends to AIDS, a third has just battled through pneumocystic pneumonia, and you could probably recite your own litany of sorrow and death. Too many more will die because of careless behavior, some of it encouraged by equally careless rhetoric.
Published in the Augusta Chronicle 3/9/96
Copyright 1996 by David Sisler
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