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?
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