Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Question of AIDS

I happened to run across the Amazon page for The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS by Michael Fumento today and it started this post.

I've always been skeptical about the various statistics offered up concerning AIDS, especially about transmission through heterosexual sex.

Back in the 80s I read a long article in the science magazine Omni that offered a detailed explanation of how HIV was transmitted and the differences between vaginal and anal tissue that affected its transmission. From that one article it seemed clear that transmission was a simple, mechanical issue. Vaginal sex is much less dangerous than anal for various reasons. During that time I saw many, well most, of my gay friends in our small town die from AIDS in quick succession. My neighbor, who was in the early stages of AIDS, once told me that several sudden deaths of married men in our community were being misreported in the obituaries because their doctors were protecting them from the stigma of the real cause, AIDS. My neighbor knew this because he personally knew many of these men to be bisexual and they went to the same parties as he did.

Besides sexual transmission, dirty needles are the most obvious reason next in line for transmission.

Since then, 20 years later, I have seen many more of my gay friends get AIDS and die, but none who are heterosexual even contract it. Why is this the case when we are told by the Office of National AIDS Policy here that 10% of AIDS cases in men are through heterosexual transmission and 75% of female AIDS cases are through heterosexual transmission. By my calculations, with 70% of new HIV cases being men and 30% being women, that adds up to 27% of all new cases being through heterosexual transmission. Does anybody believe that 1/4 of HIV cases are through straight sex?

How can that possibly be correct? I originally come from an area with a lot of very active extracurricular sexual activity, with a lot of partners shifting around and then I moved to a huge metropolitan area with a lot of people making the singles scene. How is it possible that I have never known one straight person who contracted HIV? I've considered the possibility that perhaps I am living in some cocoon of safety but I have never known anybody who knew a straight person that contracted AIDS. And It has been a conversation I've had many times with friends over the years without anybody being able to think of a non-drug-injecting straight AIDS patient they knew.

Granted, you could argue that perhaps people choose to keep it a secret. New drugs have extended lives quite a bit and made it easier for people to keep such a secret. But I find that difficult to believe.

An easier explanation is that people choose to report a cause of transmission that fits their preferred image. Like the married men from my home town, a lot of men probably prefer to blame it on a girl than maybe a beer too many with the boys. On the female side, since there is no statistic for homosexual transmission (which that OMNI article made clear was all but impossible), the other option is injection drug use (term used in report cited). Again, how many women choose to deny an activity that could be embarrassing?

Another explanation is that skewing the statistics serves the purposes of certain interest groups.

All of this is not to argue against AIDS funding or blame anybody for this terrible disease, it is to question why we seem to be determined to lie to ourselves about the realities of this disease. How much funding is wasted on the wrong target groups? How many more lives could be saved if those strategies were realigned to meet the real needs of groups most susceptible to contracting HIV?

My numbers above are admittedly not scientific. I'd have to be a scientist to do that. It was my best effort to compile the information from an official site.

Also, during my search I ran across interesting stories on AIDS in Africa here, here, and here that raise questions about statistics from that part of the world.

I know this is a touchy subject (at this late date, why should it be?) and people tend to be SHOCKED to hear somebody question the accepted doctrine on AIDS, so please feel free to let me know what you think.

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