"We have not seen anything of this magnitude that we can't control, except nuclear bombs." So said Secretary of Health and Human Services Otis Bowen, in 1987 when he was addressing the AIDS epidemic. In the early 1980's, suddenly young homosexual men began dying by the thousands. Since people did not known how the disease spread, gay waiters were not allowed to physically touch the food, sex researchers thought that toilet seats could transmit AIDS, children were barred from school if they were infected, and churchgoers would not even take communion wine in fear that they would get the disease.
In 1989, scientists were able to conclude that AIDS was transmitted only through blood and sexual intercourse: not saliva, tears, or toilets. The rate of infections in the gay community dropped, and many believed that the disease would not spread to the mainstream population. However, researchers soon discovered that the disease was spreading through intravenous drug users, Many scientists thought that the most effective way to pass the virus was through anal sex, compared to normal intercourse. hemophiliacs, and people who received infected blood through transfusions, in addition to the gay community. It was also discovered that women could transmit the disease to their unborn child. Economic deprivation was also found to play an important part in the spreading of the virus. In 1989, it was thought that the AIDS epidemic would not leave the walls of the ghettos and reach the general population. Scientists also believed that women were more at risk of getting AIDS from men, than men getting AIDS from women. Through all this, many still believed that AIDS was a "gay disease."
Scientists and doctors tried to determine the cause of the disease, and they experimented with different treatments, while discouraging the spread the disease. There were over 100 drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic tests being investigated to see if any of them would help treat, or even cure, the AIDS virus. Research done showed that GM-CSF boosted the immune system and increases white cells, while CD4 reduces levels of AIDS-like viruses in monkeys. Azidothymidine, or AZT, slowed down the multiplication of the AIDS virus in people with mild symptoms. It became the only medication licensed by the FDA for AIDS treatment.
In 1989, 1.4 million Americans had contracted AIDS, 10 million people worldwide. An estimated 1 million Brazilians had contracted the disease, as did 1,200 Japanese. In Africa, where AIDS is believed to have originated, affected both men and women equally, and about 5 million people suffered from the disease. An increasing number of AIDS cases reported were among drug users, and not homosexuals.
"American Notes California and Next, Rubber Suits." Time. 6 February 1989: 36.
Intergovernmental Health Policy Project, Washington D.C. AIDS Cases. Expenditures, and Appropriations for AIDS, by Category and Leading States: 1984-1992. Time Magazine CD Rom, Keyword: AIDS.
Langone, John. "Special Report: Good and Bad News About AIDS." Time. 1995: 60.
"Medicine: Help is on the Way." Time. 13 February 1989: 65
"Medicine: New Hope." Time. 12 August 1989: 56.
Edited, Researched and Written by:
March 8, 2000
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