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With all this media coverage, it seems as though aids is the number one health problem facing the world today. In opinion polls, this disease now rivals cancer and blindness as the health problem most people fear. The pervading of aids have prompted a reassessment of our beliefs and customs and have challenged our laws and social institutions (Mathews 21).
At first glance, the statistics do not seem to support this heavy emphasis. The total of all the aids cases reported in the United States has continued to rise, reaching more than 160,000 by the end of 1990, and the number of aids cases worldwide is close to a third of a million (Hull 22). These numbers may seem impressive compared to the number of people who gather to watch a World Series game or the Super Bowl and in reality they are. Yet each year three-quarters of a million Americans die of heart disease and close to a half million die of cancer, while the total of aids related deaths in the United States in 1990 was about 30,000. In 1990, aids ranked 10 among our top leading causes of death. Worldwide, aids tolls are only a fraction of the 200 to 300 million new cases and 2 million deaths from malaria each year (Silverstein 47).
Why all the attention to aids, then? It is just the latest media hype, playing on our emotions and needlessly building up our fears? There are several reasons why people have reacted so emotionally to aids.
First of all, it is a new disease. Cancer, heart disease, and malaria have been killing people ever since there have been humans on earth, but scientists did not even find out about aids since 1981.
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The reported total number of aids cases in the United States is increasing explosively. What is more, public health experts believe that the actual cases of aids are only a small fraction of the total problem, and that is the part that is visible. Not so obvious but just as real are the much larger numbers of people who are infected with aids but have not developed any symptoms yet. Some of them may never ever realize that they have been infected. Many, however, will be the new aids cases in the years to come and all of those infected, even if they do not have any symptoms, can spread the disease to others (Falling 5). We may be on the verge of a new plague rivaling the influenza epidemic that swept throughout the world at the end of World War 1, or the dreaded Black Plague of the Middle Ages.
A third frightening factor about aids is its deadliness. Over 60 percent of those in whom aids was diagnosed have died; the majority die within two years of diagnosis. Though it can kill quickly, this new disease can also produce great suffering. Disfiguring sores, wracking bores of pneumonia that leave the patient gasping for breath, endless series of infections that can strike almost any organ or system of the body, and, perhaps worse, progressive blindness. Any or all of these may accompany the development of aids (Lerman-Golomb 72).
When aids first appeared on the United States, it seemed to be confined to only a few small groups of the population, contracting in a few large cities. Since then, it has spread to every state of the union penetrating in cities, towns, and rural areas (Zanduela B9). Aids has been reported in virtually every country in the world; the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates between five and ten million are already infected. Aids strikes men, women, and children. It also affects people of every race. No longer confined to the original narrow "risks groups," among these homosexual men, people having multiple sex partners and intravenous drug users, it has gradually found a way of spreading into every level of society and striking people from groups that were once believed to be "safe" (Falling 77).
The medical epidemic of aids has given rise to another epidemic, the epidemic of fear. In some cities, parents are fearful that their children may catch aids form classmates and some have boycotted the school, keeping the children at home. People have abandoned dear friends and loved ones suffering from the disease for fear of getting it themselves (Mathews 17).
The aids story has not all been negative. This new threat has challenged our society; although some people have failed the test, others, like courageous researchers, have been inspired to heroism and self-sacrifice.
The work of medical researchers has been an encouraging chapter in the ongoing stories of aids. "In a long lifetime of looking at biomedical research," commented noted cancer researcher and science philosopher Lewis Thomas in 1988, "I have never seen anything to touch the progress that has already been made in laboratories working on the aids virus. Considering the disease was recognized only seven years ago and that its agent, HIV, is one of the most complex and baffling organisms on earth, the achievement is an astonishing" (Silverstein 54). In a brief span of time, researcher have found the cause of the disease and learned much about it and the ways it is passed from one person to another. They have found many effective treatments for many of the infections that accompany aids and drugs that can also slow the process of the disease and enable people with it to live longer and feel better. Medical researchers are how searching for more effective means of treating aids and working on vaccines, to prevent it (Lerman-Golomb 27).
Aids is a highly publicized disease which has surfaced significantly during the past several years. The National Cancer Institute identified the cause of aids as a virus has been called human lymphotrophic virus III (HTLV-III). Similar findings were reported by the Pasteur Institute in Paris, where the virus was named Lymphatic Virus III (associated virus LAV). The virus has also been called AIDS. This associated retrovirus was is called ARV. It is now believed that HTLV-III, LAV, and ARV are the same virus (Landman 54).
The aids virus attacks and kills certain white blood cells called T lymphocytes, which help to maintain the body's natural immune system. The immune system protects the body from on extensive variety of diseases. As the virus spreads, the immune system breaks down, leaving the individual susceptible to dangerous infections. "The body is no longer capable of effectively eradicating foreign cells that may cause infection or of destroying abnormal cells which may eventually develop into cancer" (Falling 61).
Aids develops slowly over a period of time. It may take six months to five years or more before the symptoms of aids appears in an infected individual. So, even if the disease could be permanently halted today, new cases of aids would still appear for the next five years (Hull 23). Aids exists as a syndrome, which means that a number of different conditions may appear which have all been brought on by the same underlying cause. So far, some characteristic patterns have been identified as being associated with aids. Stricken individuals are often afflicted with unusual infection called "opportunistic infections" (Mathews 15). Among the most frequently reported is an infection of the lungs called Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia (PCP). Aids victims may also be stricken with otherwise rare forms of cancer, most commonly Kaposi's Sarcoma, a form of cancer rarely seen in young people in the United States prior to the aids epidemic. The underlying cause for these conditions is a malfunctioning of the immune system, which is the essence of aids. The aids virus may also attack the brain cells, causing mental deterioration with or without other symptoms (Chambers 10).
The aids virus is most commonly transmitted through sexual contact, primarily anal intercourse (Silverstein 89). The virus has been found in some body fluids, such as semen and blood. Infection has also occurred through the use of hypodermic needles and transfusion of contaminated blood. The aids virus is not transmitted through coughing, sneezing, or just by touching infected individuals. While technically anyone is exposed to the possibility of contracting aids, some individuals are more likely to become aids victims. People who fall in this category are members of certain high risk groups (Falling 132).
So far, about 70 percent to 75 percent of aids victims in the United States have been homosexually active men. About 15 percent to 20 percent of cases are in the intravenous drug user group. Cases of aids have also been noted among hemophiliacs, who are individuals with inherited blood clotting problems. These are individuals appear to have contracted aids through a blood factor which entered their bodies through transfusions of donated blood. It is now certain that aids may be transmitted to anyone through blood transfusions (Landman 47). The infants born to mothers having aids comprise still another group in serious jeopardy of contracting the disease. At this point of the women who have contracted aids have been intravenous drug users. Others have been sexual partners of people with the aids virus. Many have also been prostitutes (Lerman-Golomb 97).
Aids is generally considered a fatal disease, in which very few people have lived past three years following their diagnosis of the disease. Resent research has revealed that to some degree, numerous homosexually active men show deficiencies in their immune system. As of early 1986, federal health officials have speculated that in addition to the already diagnosed persons with aids, 500,000 to 1 million Americans have been infected by the aids virus. Some individuals are symptomless carriers of the virus, while others may exhibit such symptoms as weight loss, fever, swollen lymph nodes, or diarrhea. This syndrome is called aids-related complex, or ARC. The majority of persons with this syndrome have not developed any of the life-threatening complications associated with the syndrome, instead they may have others that are still unknown at this time. Some studios suggest that between 5 percent and 20 percent of these individuals may eventually develop into aids over a period of months to years (Silverstein 65).
Some of the most common symptoms of acquired aids are swollen glands, waking up in cold sweat at night and feeling like the victim has the "flu." A rapid loss of weight, consisting of ten pounds or more, unrelated to diet or exercise along with persistent diarrhea is a sure sign also. Many experience swelling and tenderness of joints. Signs of white blood cell deficiency are clearly shown when bruising becomes very easy and is accompanied with unusual and prolonged bleeding. Feelings of fatigue and general malaise may be a common symptom or characteristic of aids. There is a high degree of confusion that lead to headaches and eventually shift of personalities. It would be a good idea to get and aids test if a thrush, thick white coating on the tongue and in the throat become persistent, being this, a common characteristic of an early aids symptom (Falling 29).
Even though a vaccine for aids has not yet been produced, the disease is preventable. People can greatly reduce their chances of contracting aids by following some common sense rules based on the ways the disease is transmitted. For example, abstaining from sex until marriage and if this is not possible, reducing the number of sexual partners, staying away from intervenors drug use, and not becoming involved in homosexuality and anal intercourse would be wise advice to consider. Although it may not seem important, maintaining excellent personal hygiene of all types and getting plenty of rest along with proper nutrition and adequate exercise help the immune system to become stronger and therefore not only help in the prevention of aids, but in any other disease (Silverstein 104).
First of all, the danger of getting aids provides a very good argument against casual sex. Abstinence is one sure way to stay safe. Those who do not chose that option can minimize their risk by getting to know a prospective partner well before deciding to have and intimate sexual relationship, and by limiting sex partners, preferably to one person, who also agrees that a one-to-one relationship is the most prudent choice. It is important and good to remember what former San Francisco Mayor, Dianne Feinstein, tells her own stepdaughters: "If you are going to bed with someone today, you to bed with their entire sexual history" (Hull 23). It is very difficult to tell by looking at someone whether he or she has aids, and people do not always tell the truth about what they have done in the past.
Health specialists recommend prudence in sexual practices, too. The use of condoms can help to avoid the exchange of body fluids that might transmit the aids virus. There are not fool proof, though. Condoms are commonly known for breaking easily. Recent tests by Consumer Reports showed that as many as 10 percent of some brands of condoms fail to provide protection. Water-based lubricants can help prevent damage to lining of the rectum and vagina, though which HIV could enter the bloodstream. Nanoxynol-9 and Octoxynol-9, sperm-killing ingredients in many commercial spermicide and lubricants, have been found to kill aids viruses in a test tube, but health experts are now having second thoughts about recommending them to help prevent transmitting the disease by sexual activity because results are not fully convincing. "Such spermicide can irritate the delicate lining of the vagina and rectum, promoting cuts or abrasions through which the aids virus could penetrate into the tissue and blood. Thus they might actually increase the risk of transmitting HIV" (Mathews 16).
As for kissing, a casual kiss is probably safe enough, but since the aids virus has been found in saliva, deep open-mouth kissing is not recommended even though there is no evidence that saliva can transmit the disease. In Hollywood, the Screen Actors Guild states the right to the position that members can refuse to do scenes involving deep open-mouth kissing. Rock Hudson's failure to warn his lover's "outrageous conduct," was awarded $21.7 million dollars for damages, even though his lover was tested and came out negative. Later on, a more reasonable judge reduced the award to $5.5 million dollars (Lerman-Golomb 34).
There are plenty of good reasons besides aids to avoid becoming addicted to drugs or if someone happens to be involved in them already, to get into a treatment program and kick the habit as quickly as possible. Drug users can reduce their risks of catching aids by not sharing needles, but it is always possible to be sure that a needle is uncontaminated to start with. Avoiding other situations where contaminated needles may be used would be smart option to consider. If someone has their ears pierced or are having acupuncture treatments, precautions such as making sure the needles have been sterilized, not just rinsed off after the last use, should be taken (Landman 93).
As for blood transfusions, the risk is already extremely small. But it can be further minimized by arranging with hospitals to donate blood in advance when elective surgery is planned, to be used if a transfusion is needed.
Getting enough sleep and eating sensibly have shown through studies that people whose general health is good stand a better chance of fighting off the aids virus if they are exposed. Certain vitamins like vitamins A, C, and E are minerals including selenium (Se) and zinc (Zn) can help strengthen the immune system and provide protection against viruses and cancer. They may help in avoiding aids too. Cigarette smoking can act as a cofactor in aids (Silverstein 21).
Aids is not spread by casual contact and people with aids or people who fear they may develop aids, need sensitive, caring friends who can help to bolster their feelings of self-worth, strength and everlasting hope. There are many people who dedicate their lives to the well being of victims of aids by becoming their friends and giving them the moral support they need to encounter such a demoralizing disease.
In the mid 1980's, a diagnosis of aids seemed like a grim death sentence. But with treatments that are being used now, people with aids are living longer lives and feeling better. Most of them are able to return to work after their disease is diagnosed, and a substantial fractions are still working and leading active lives years later. "When people were diagnosed two years ago," said Lewis Katoff of the New York based Gay Men's Health Crisis in 1988, "they prepared themselves for death. Now they are preparing to live with aids" (Falling 67).
Aids is a terrorizing disease which affect millions of human beings all over the world. Since there is no sure cure that has been discovered as of right now, we must take every precaution to avoid getting ourselves and our loved ones this terrible disease. Researchers are constantly working to find a way to reduce the aids virus and maybe even prevent it. By knowing more about the disease, people have learned that aids victims have awful burdens to carry and that without being contaminated themselves, they can help too. What are we going to do to help all those people in need?