Herpes and AIDS in the Spotlight
“I FEEL like a leper. Who would want me if I told him that I have an incurable disease that can be sexually transmitted?” Thus spoke a sufferer of the much-publicized genital herpes. It is rampant in the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan. The United States alone reports that an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 individuals are afflicted with it each year. One doctor estimated that “20,000 to 50,000 new cases of genital herpes are diagnosed in Canada each year.”
The cause of all this misery? Medical science says it is a tiny particle, a virus, that is but one member of a large herpes “family.” Chicken pox and shingles are common afflictions caused by herpes viruses. The one causing genital herpes is similar (at times identical) to the virus causing the ordinary cold sores people get on their lips. But when herpes afflicts the genitals, the sufferer has usually (but not always*) contracted the virus in a specific way: by sexual contact with another herpes victim.
Three to seven days after exposure to herpes, the infected one notices a burning or tingling sensation in the genital area—the herald of painful, fluid-filled blisters. The sores work their torment for two to six weeks before healing. But herpes does not go away. Doctors say it merely beats a retreat, via nerve pathways, to nerve clusters at the base of the spine. There it lies dormant until something (such as stress) triggers a reactivation of the virus. Awakened, it travels the nerve pathways back to the skin and begins the misery cycle all over again.
Perhaps the most insidious effect of herpes is upon the sufferer’s emotions. Observes Dr. Oscar Gillespie: “The major problem with herpes isn’t so much in the virus itself, but in the ways its presence can create fears, doubts and disruptions in day-to-day living.” Said one victim: “It’s very difficult to describe the feelings of anger, guilt, and loss of control that you have when you have herpes. It’s something that I believe only a fellow herpes victim could share and understand.” Yet such emotional turmoil merely prolongs the cycle of suffering, often by triggering further recurrences of the disease.
Why Called Incurable
Why doesn’t the body’s immune system simply crush the irritating herpes virus? Doctors say that herpes escapes such a fate by attaching itself to a cell, penetrating its outer membrane and hiding therein. Safely inside, it swiftly commandeers control of the cell’s “brain,” turning the cell into a veritable herpes factory! From 80,000 to 120,000 new viruses are created within three to five hours. The cell wall then bursts open, allowing an army of dangerous particles to flow into the bloodstream and infect yet other cells.
You can thus see why doctors say that herpes is so tough to kill. A cure would somehow have to penetrate infected cells to kill the virus. Or it would have to kill infected cells without destroying healthy ones. Little wonder that medical science is thus far stumped. (See box.) Recent reports that herpes vaccines are being tested give some ray of hope perhaps. But while such an “ounce of prevention” may help millions, what about those already afflicted?
AIDS—A New STD?
“In my professional career, I have never encountered a more frustrating and depressing situation,” Newsweek quoted Dr. Peter Mansell as saying. He referred to the disease that has captured world attention: AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). The term describes a shutdown of the body’s immune system. Its victims thus succumb to rare forms of cancer and pneumonia.
How far has AIDS spread? Thus far, over 4,000 cases* have been reported in the United States alone. At least 32 other countries have also reported incidents of the disease. Countries thus far relatively unaffected, such as Japan, have geared up to deal with it—just in case.
AIDS victims appear to have a staggering mortality rate. Over 60 percent of those first diagnosed as having it died within a year. Some, however, fear that all AIDS victims will eventually die of the disease. Yet the syndrome starts off innocently enough with flulike symptoms, fatigue and weight loss. Unfortunately, as Dr. Frederick P. Siegal observes: “By the time most physicians see AIDS patients, the ball game is over.”
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), active homosexuals (with multiple partners) have the greatest risk of contracting AIDS. Also at risk are hemophiliacs and abusers of intravenous drugs.* But since roughly 70 percent of the AIDS victims were homosexuals, it is strongly suspected that the disease is in most cases sexually transmitted.
“Fear is spreading much faster than the disease,” said Discover magazine. No doubt headlines such as “Mere Contact May Spread AIDS” have promoted this fear:
● Hospital workers have refused to treat AIDS patients.*
● Morticians have been reluctant to embalm the bodies of AIDS victims.
● Police in San Francisco, California, were issued resuscitation devices and rubber gloves to avoid AIDS infection while rendering first aid.
● Technicians refused to hook up a microphone for an AIDS victim scheduled for an interview on a TV talk show. The purpose of the show? To allay fears about AIDS.
● AIDS hot-line services “have been flooded with calls asking if the disease could be contracted from holding subway straps or using toilet seats used by gays.”
The gay community, however, felt the greatest impact. Gay bars and bathhouses reported a lull in business due to people’s fear of contracting AIDS. And since homosexuals with multiple partners are at the greatest risk, some even made drastic changes in their life-style. Few, if any, were scared straight (heterosexual). But some have avoided anonymous sexual contact and settled into “monogamous” relationships.
It is the AIDS victim, however, who suffers the real anguish. Treated as outcasts by neighbors and workmates, shunned by lovers, AIDS victims must also bear the burden of having an incurable disease. “It just hangs over your head,” said one AIDS victim. “There is always the overriding uncertainty that on any day you’ll come down with something new that your suppressed immune system can’t repel.”
So while the public’s reaction may to some extent be an overreaction, fear of AIDS is not unfounded. AIDS is an insidious killer. And reports that it can spread to the public at large through blood transfusions have ignited further fear and resentment. (See box on page 9.)* Homosexuals thus find themselves victims not only of hostility but of a life-style fraught with peril.
For example, individuals at times contract herpes on their fingers by touching herpetic sores. Thus, they can accidentally spread the disease to other parts of the body, such as the genitals, by touching them.
It is possible that not all reported cases really involve the same syndrome, since AIDS spans quite a wide selection of symptoms. On the other hand, AIDS may be grossly under reported, since many victims may fear the stigma attached to AIDS.
The CDC informed Awake! that previous theories linking Haitians to AIDS by means of “voodoo rituals” are unsubstantiated.
The CDC has issued precautions for clinical and laboratory staffs, even though they claim contraction of AIDS “through casual contact [does] not seem likely.” Such precautions include wearing gloves while handling blood specimens from AIDS patients, disposing of needles used on AIDS patients and wearing surgical gowns.
On April 23, 1984, researchers announced that they had isolated the virus that is believed to cause AIDS. In time, an effective test to screen AIDS-contaminated blood may be announced. This, however, is still far short of having a cure for the malady.
[Blurb on page 10]
Dr. Frederick P. Siegal observes: “By the time most physicians see AIDS patients, the ball game is over.”
[Blurb on page 10]
The shock of contracting a sexually transmitted disease has caused many to view promiscuity in a new light
[Box on page 8]
A Cure for Herpes?
Bogus cures for herpes, say doctors, have not only raised false hopes but in some cases simply made a bad condition worse. Among some of the treatments called ineffective by the CDC are vaccines, immune stimulants, vitamins C, E and B12, special diets, zinc, lactobacillus (acidophilus) tablets, steroid creams and dye-light therapy.
But why do so many claim relief by means of these “cures”? Doctors remind us of what appears to trigger recurrences of herpes—stress and anxiety. Just about anything that calms a person down and makes him less anxious might seemingly cure the malady—temporarily. It is generally just a matter of time, however, before the latent herpes viruses, still nestled away in the cells, decide to attack again. Of course, controversy still surrounds some of these treatments, but a person is wise to investigate a treatment thoroughly before submitting to it.
For the time being, the best medical science has to offer is symptomatic relief. The drug acyclovir, for example, has been approved for use in the United States and appears to speed the healing of herpes sores. But, alas, it does not prevent recurrences!
Doctors give some common-sense advice for herpes sufferers that may also bring a measure of relief. Rest, warm baths, compresses, ice packs and keeping the sores dry are considered helpful, although far short of being cures.
[Box on page 9]
AIDS and Blood
First it was the hemophiliacs. The treatment for their malady (clotting factor VIII) is derived from the blood of hundreds of donors. So when some hemophiliacs contracted AIDS, blood immediately became suspect. Then an infant who had received a transfusion from an AIDS victim also contracted the disease. Though the chances of getting AIDS from a transfusion seemed slim, the CDC nevertheless warned that “members of groups at increased risk for AIDS [primarily homosexuals] should refrain from donating plasma and/or blood.”
Getting voluntary compliance from blood donors, though, has been easier said than done. And the homosexual community has cried “Discrimination!” to suggestions that they be banned from donating blood. European doctors have therefore talked of banning imports of U.S. blood products, and some patients have refused blood transfusions!
Fear that AIDS may be contracted by sharing needles even caused a temporary panic among blood donors. A spokesman for the Greater New York Blood Program told Awake! that blood donations went down 25 percent during the month of July 1983. And this in spite of the fact that the needles used are sterilized and hermetically sealed before use, and then broken and discarded after use.
While the newly announced test for screening blood may protect the blood supply from AIDS contamination, the AIDS scare has served to remind the public that transfusing blood is a practice that carries with it some serious risks.
[Diagrams on page 7]
(For fully formatted text, see publication.)
Step one: The herpes virus attaches itself to the cell and penetrates its outer membrane.
Step two: The virus takes over the cell’s nucleus to reproduce herpes viruses by the thousands.
CELL NUCLEUS DESTROYED
Step three: The cell wall ruptures, releasing tens of thousands of viruses.