Statistics and studies continue to support the information about AIDS transmission modes and risk groups that we gave here almost a year ago. [See “AIDS: What Risk to Save a Life?,” Fire Engineering, June 1987, page 32.)
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome is still known to be transmitted only through sexual contact, by intravenous injection, and during pregnancy or the birth process; and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that the percentage of cases traced to each mode of transmission has remained steady.
The major risk groups are still those who engage in unprotected sexual contact, use intravenous drugs, or are born to mothers who had the AIDS virus in their bodies during pregnancy; and the CDC says the percentage of cases in each risk group has remained steady.
Health officials aren’t seeing any evidence that firefighters fall into a separate group because of their jobs, but that doesn’t mean we can rule out the possibility of transmission through an injury of the tvpe one might sustain in performing, say, extrication. [See “Prevention Guidelines for Emergency Response,” page 47. J
Extensive studies have been conducted in households where a family member had the HIV infection. They continue to show that, despite frequent or prolonged casual contact, none of the 400 individuals involved has become infected by being in the same room as an infected person or touching or sharing household items.
There’s also no evidence of transmission by insects, even in tropical zones where insect populations are large.
One thing that has shifted recently is the public misconception of the AIDS problem. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was seen as being limited to homosexual men. Now that the gay community has been active in education and prevention, the public focus has shifted to the black and Hispanic communities, but the misconception remains: that AIDS is a problem mainly for those groups.
The AIDS virus—human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV— is an equal opportunity virus. It doesn’t discriminate according to race, ethnicity, age, economic status, sex, or region. Indeed, there are 3 to 12 times as many AIDS cases among black and Hispanic adults as among whites. But again, the deciding factor isn’t ethnicity, but behavior. The numbers can largely be attributed to higher IV drug use in minority communities.
Just as it was true a year ago, everyone must protect themselves against AIDS. For while the proportions haven’t changed, and spokesman Chuck Fallis says the CDC doesn’t anticipate “a rampant spread among heterosexuals,” the raw numbers of AIDS cases have continued a gradual increase in all groups.
As of March 14, more than 56,000 cases of full-blown AIDS had been reported to the CDC; 31,000 of those people had died. The CDC projects that there will be 270,000 AIDS cases in this country by the end of 1991.
Protection, then, requires an honest evaluation of your own behaviors, as well as a willingness to discuss your situation with your sexual partner or partners.
To receive literature on AIDS and related topics, please contact the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Publication Orders, Box 274, 132 W. 24th St., New York, NY, 10011; telephone (212) 807-7517. The material is available in English or Spanish. Various publications from GMHC address specific concerns of men (gay, bisexual, or homosexual), women (gay and straight), and people with AIDS; as well as legal and medical issues, a nursing care plan, and condom guidelines for men and women.