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How Not to Spread AIDS

Almost a quarter century ago I went to lunch with some friends from work. As we sat at a cafe table, the fellow next to me asked to taste my drink. I said sure and watched him sip from my straw.

I didn't know what to do next.

I knew my friend to be homosexual. I had no reason to believe he might have AIDS. But back in those days, much remained unknown about that disease and the virus that causes it -- including exactly how that virus is transmitted.

Hoping he didn't notice, I took my next sip straight from the can, as if that were somehow safer. I still feel foolish -- and embarrassed -- about my reaction.

Today we know much more about how AIDS spreads from person to person, and, other matters of hygiene aside, I now know that people don't get infected by sharing a drink with someone with AIDS. I also know that the disease affects heterosexuals as well as homosexuals.

Yesterday's Washington Post article about the frightening prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the District of Columbia quotes Shannon L. Hader, director of the District's HIV/AIDS Administration, as saying, "We have every mode of transmission" -- men having sex with men, heterosexual and injected drug use -- "going up, all on the rise, and we have to deal with them."

The continued high incidence of HIV/AIDS in America and abroad suggests that the virus has spread more quickly than reliable information about how it's caught and how not to spread it further.

So here's a quick primer on how not to spread AIDS. Print it out, post it, do whatever you can to get it in the hands of someone who needs to know.

  • Know your status: Here's a list of clinics in D.C., Maryland and Virginia that offer HIV testing for $10 or less. If you learn you are infected, you must share that information with every potential sex partner.
  • Practice safe sex EVERY TIME. No matter which organ's going where, a condom must be involved. Ladies, be on the lookout for a new and improved women's condom that's just been approved by the FDA. It's softer and less "noisy" than earlier models and costs less, too. Here's more on safe sex.
  • Of course, there's always abstinence.
  • Don't use intravenous drugs. If you insist, don't share needles with anyone. Avail yourself of a needle exchange program so nobody else gets pricked with your needle.
  • Don't use methamphetamines. These party drugs both lift your libido and lower your guard, making you more inclined to take unsafe risks in pursuit of satisfaction.
  • If you are pregnant or nursing, talk with a physician or other health-care worker about reducing the risk of spreading AIDS to your baby. AIDS can be transmitted during childbirth and through breast milk.
  • Don't kiss anyone if you have an open cut or sore in your mouth. HIV's not transmitted via saliva, but even a small amount of blood can carry infection.

Just think: If everyone followed these rules, AIDS would be stopped dead in its tracks, right?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  March 16, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  AIDS , Chronic Conditions , Prevention  
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Comments

I do take issue with one bullet point here:

"Practice safe sex EVERY TIME. No matter which organ's going where, a condom must be involved. Ladies, be on the lookout for a new and improved women's condom that's just been approved by the FDA. It's softer and less "noisy" than earlier models and costs less, too. Here's more on safe sex."

My problem is that this parroting of the "safe sex" mantra obscures the fact that anal sex spreads HIV more than vaginal sex.
While using a condom is good advice, eschewing anal sex, no matter your sex or sexual orientation is also good advice.

Posted by: edbyronadams | March 16, 2009 8:58 AM | Report abuse

I concur. As someone that has seen friends contract the disease (from a variety of sources) in the past few years, I of course empathize with their plight.

But, something in the back of my head also says I should hit themselves upside the head as they knew better. It's not 1983. And yet, people are human and we all make mistakes. It still doesn't stop the hurt.

Posted by: CaptainJohn2525 | March 16, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

BTW, when I say "concur," I'm referring to the original author's safe-sex guidelines.

Posted by: CaptainJohn2525 | March 16, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

"The continued high incidence of HIV/AIDS in America and abroad suggests that the virus has spread more quickly than reliable information about how it's caught and how not to spread it further."

---

No, it suggests that people assume it won't happen to them, or if it does happen to them - hey, there's a pill for that!!

You would have to be living under a rock to not know how HIV is spread. It's pretty simple. As a previous poster wrote, it's not 1983 anymore. And it's not rocket science.

Some people get it in very tragic and weird ways - transfusions, sharing a razor (2 girls in Australia), etc. But for most people ... we've helped them as much as we can. At some point, they have to start helping themselves.

Posted by: Pantoufle | March 16, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

My sister-in-law is working on her PhD in the health field. One of the speakers they had was someone who specialized in HIV/AIDS, and that woman told those attending the lecture that many people, when they found out they tested positive, went out and had unprotected sex with as many people as they could to give the disease to as many people as they could. So use protection every time no matter what. And abstinence is the most effective way to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Posted by: bjbadeaux1 | March 16, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Please note it is not possible to spread AIDS. AIDS is a syndrome, HIV is the virus that causes it. The conflation of HIV with AIDS creates unnecessary confusion. One gets tested for HIV, can contract HIV and can transmit HIV. Having HIV does NOT mean having AIDS, though everyone with AIDS has HIV.

You should also mention that getting checked and treated for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is also essential. Not all doctors feel comfortable recommending these tests to their patients.

Finally, everyone should know testing negative does not rule out infection if potential exposure to HIV occurred recently. The same applies for new sex partners - they need to clear this "window period" starting from their last potential exposure before they can truly be considered HIV-negative. If they really are infected - in spite of testing negative - this is also the time they are most infectious.

I would encourage you to be more precise with your language, and comprehensive in your recommendations, before imploring others to share your words with others.

Posted by: suj198 | March 16, 2009 11:17 AM | Report abuse

I am disappointed that this list did not mention two other ways to reduce the likelihood of HIV transmission. The first is partner reduction/avoiding multiple and concurrent partners/being faithful to one, uninfected and monogamous partner. The new DC data show that being part of a "sexual network" is particularly risky since HIV is most easily transmitted during acute HIV infection (early infection). Sticking to one sexual partner at a time sharply reduces the risk of HIV transmission.

We also know that male circumcision reduces the likelihood of female to male HIV transmission by approximately 60%. In heterosexual epidemics male circumcision can play an important role in reducing HIV transmission.

Posted by: KCN1 | March 16, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

This is not to demean or put-down anyone.

This debilitating virus has had a hold in the African American community since Congresswoman Norton’s 7th re-election bid.

If Congresswoman Norton would come out of the closet as an African American Woman, believe it or not many other infected employees of the D.C. government may find the courage also.

These are and need to be the first to come out of the closet for Aids testing.

How can Adrian Fenty be so disingenuous when he does not has the employees of his government ordered to take the Aids/HIV test first!

The Mayor has a lifetime relationship with D.C.'s majority single-sex D.C. government employees.

He needs to be the first to step outside of his denials.

Then and only then, can any citizen truly understand the depth in the deceit of those that are infected with the deadly Aids/HIV in the District of Columbia.

This is an ernest and open challenge for the D.C. politicians to come-out-of-the-closet and then we ca truly face the severe dilemmas D.C. citizens routinely need . we need to stop this deadly virus in it's path.

These tragedies will never end in the District o Columbia until its elected leaders step forward first and are tested first.

Assuredly, a significant number of those infected can then be properly treated, and we can begin to control the rabid habits of habitual multi-partner sex behaviors and take a bite out of the scurrilous spread of this deadly disease.

Posted by: eglobegus | March 16, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

The following are lyrics from a 1991 LaTour song. Has anything really changed in the past 18 years ???

Have you noticed that people are still having sex
All the denouncement had absolutely no effect
Parents and counselors constantly scorn them
But people are still having sex and nothing seems to stop them

Do you realize that people are still having sex
They've been told not to, perhaps they are perplexed
When you see them holding hands
They're making future plans to engage in the activity
Do you understand me?

People are still having sex
Lust keeps on lurking
Nothing makes them stop
This AIDs thing is not working
People are still having sex
It's been going on for quite a while
Perhaps its quite fashionable
It hasn't gone out of style

It's a fact that people are still having sex
It's rather obvious, it's just what one expects
The evidence is all around that everyone in every town
Has had it at one time or other in their life

At this very moment people are still having sex
In a downtown condo or street in the projects
Although you can't see them or hear their breathing sounds
Someone in this world is having sex right now

People are still having sex
People are still having sex
People are still having sex
People are still having sex

Sex sex sex sex
Sex sex sex sex

People are still having sex
Lust keeps on lurking
Nothing makes them stop
This AIDs thing is not working
People are still having sex
It's been going on for quite a while
Perhaps its quite fashionable
It hasn't gone out of style

People are still having sex
People are still having sex
People are still having sex
People are still having sex
Sex

Posted by: ashafer_usa | March 16, 2009 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: ashafer_usa | March 16, 2009 5:55 PM | Report abuse

In 1996 the third edition of "The Guide to Living with HIV Infection," developed at the prestigiou Johns Hopkins AIDS Clinic, accommodated technical and behavioral realities by recommending: "If a condom leaks or breaks, both partners should wash their genitals with soap and water."

Since there scores of private health educators and healthcare providers, some available on line via the National Library of Medicine (medlineplus.gov) have recommended supplementing condom use by washing involved body parts after sex.

For centuries post-sex washing was recommended to prevent bacterial STDs such as syphilis, gonorrhea, and chancroid, which make it easier to get HIV infections by weakening a body's immune system.

Federally funded AIDS-prevention programs have been kept from recommending post-sex washing because the National Institutes has just begun to conduct the kinds of scientific research required by their cutting-edge biomedical paradigms.

But in the fall of 2004, Professor King K. Holmes, M.D., Ph.D., widely considered the dean of research in this field, joined field researchers in Nairobi in publishing results from the first American biomedical study of post-sex washing vis-a-vis HIV infections to be conducted by American researchers.

His research found that post-sex penile washing reduces the risk of HIV infections and raises the question of whether male circumcision is simply proxy for effecting post-sex washing.

Posted by: tobymarotta | March 16, 2009 7:31 PM | Report abuse

posted by HCN1: "We also know that male circumcision reduces the likelihood of female to male HIV transmission by approximately 60%. In heterosexual epidemics male circumcision can play an important role in reducing HIV transmission."

This is false information. Yes, I do know about the African studies but they are false and misleading. If circumcision had the protective effect claimed, HIV would be as rare as polio in The US. The polio vaccine is only 70% effective on a much more contagious virus yet wiped the disease from the population in a single generation. If circumcision was even remotely protective, HIV would be conspiciously absent from The US where 80% - 85% of the sexually active population has been "vaccinated" by circumcison. Instead, The US has the highest HIV infection rate of all the industrialized nations that do not practice circumcision and have circumcision rates of 1% or less. The ethnic group with the highest circumcision rate, African Americans, also have the highest HIV infection rate by multiple times. If circumcision were effective, this just would not be possible as the vectors of transmission would be broken sufficiently that the virus would run into constant roadblocks.

.

Posted by: FrankOHara1 | March 17, 2009 1:00 AM | Report abuse

The warning about not kissing ....would also be true about shared straw use. Be consistent!

Posted by: johnson9 | March 17, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

KCN1, there is no such thing as a "heterosexual epidemic". The virus spreads however it can, and the woods are full of married men who have sex with men. Female to male is about the third least effective direction of HIV transfer, after male to female and male to male, so even if circumcision worked there, it would be little help over all. But the African trials are flawed in several ways. The men who left the trials, their HIV status unknown, both circumcised and not, outnumbered by several times the men known to have contracted HIV, whether circumcised or not, for example. And in seven African countries, a higher proportion of circumcised men than non-circumcised have HIV.

bjbadeaux1's sister-in-law's lecturer's story about "AIDS Marys" has been doing the rounds literally for centuries: folklorists have traced it back to the Black Death. Did she include the message left on the mirror: "Welcome to the World of AIDS"? Before the days of lipstick, it was said to be written in blood.

Posted by: hugh7 | March 18, 2009 5:37 AM | Report abuse

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