AIDS—What Parents and Children Should Know
UNFORTUNATELY for many adolescent victims who have developed AIDS, their problems are often compounded by the unbalanced thinking of many adults who know little about AIDS. In many cases parents have prejudiced the minds of their own children against those with the disease. Even after doctors have said that there is no danger, school superintendents and principals have refused to admit students who are infected with the AIDS virus. Thus it is that secrecy is the watchword for many parents with HIV-infected children. They are afraid, in some cases with good reason, that their children will be ostracized, abused, or worse.
For example, a mother with an AIDS-infected daughter was so afraid of trouble with her neighbors that she kept her child from playing with their children. “You don’t want the people who live around you to know your child has AIDS, because people do weird things.” According to reports, this is no exaggeration. Parents have been shunned by their best friends and neighbors. Friends have turned away on the street rather than acknowledge their presence or say a greeting to them. The stigma of AIDS runs so deep in its prejudice that patrons have walked out of restaurants, shouting insults when a family with an AIDS-afflicted child entered. Fathers have lost their jobs. Others have received bomb threats. Still others have had their homes set on fire.
Children with AIDS have been the victims of cruel jokes by classmates. One such AIDS victim, who contracted the disease through a blood transfusion, was repeatedly accused by schoolmates of being a homosexual. They would taunt: “We know how you really got AIDS.” The family was shunned by members of their church. Nasty anonymous letters arrived. Piles of garbage were thrown on their lawn. Someone even fired a bullet through a front window.
“It’s such a hush-hush thing,” said one mother of an AIDS-infected child, “and that’s what makes it so lonesome.” The New York Times adds its voice: “Most of the 1,736 American children under the age of 13 diagnosed with AIDS have been set apart by their disease, forced to hide their condition from healthy friends or schoolmates who might shun them.” And, finally, there was this observation from The Toronto Star: “Even after a youngster dies, many families are afraid to reveal the truth, which increases the pain and isolation that accompanies the loss of any child.”
What You Should Know
It must be acknowledged that AIDS is no respecter of persons. It can infect the rich, the poor, the young, the very young, and the old. Among the young, there is, in some countries, a poor and superficial knowledge of AIDS. Most people “have no conception of how huge a danger AIDS is to teenagers,” said a New York City expert on AIDS.
For example, a study of young people in a large American city revealed that 30 percent of those surveyed believed that AIDS could be cured if treated early. No cure of AIDS has yet been found. One third did not know that one cannot contract AIDS by merely touching someone with the disease or by using his comb. An additional survey of 860 teenagers, ages 16 to 19, in another part of the United States found that 22 percent did not know that the AIDS virus can be transmitted by semen and that 29 percent were unaware that it can be transmitted by vaginal secretions.
During the entire incubation period as well as during the time when AIDS has actually appeared, the victims are infectious and can transmit the AIDS virus to others. It cannot, however, be transmitted by shaking hands with or hugging an AIDS victim, since the virus quickly dies outside the body. Similarly, the virus cannot live on toilet seats, a fear held by some. Did school principals and superintendents fear that AIDS-free students could contract the disease by drinking from a water fountain just used by an AIDS victim? Experts say that these fears are not valid inasmuch as the virus would have no way of getting into the bloodstream of the uninfected person.
Doctors are often asked about the danger of having ears pierced, since needles are used. Experts admit that if contaminated equipment is used, this could be an avenue for contracting the AIDS virus. And what about kissing? “If someone with AIDS or infected with HIV kisses you, and you have a bleeding cut or sore on your lips or in your mouth, it’s conceivable, but highly unlikely,” said one expert. It is possible, however.
The only way you can know if you are infected, even after certain suspicious symptoms may appear, is through a doctor’s thorough examination and a blood test.
And, finally, if you are a child, be truthful with your parents. When all others fail you, they can be the ones to stick with you and give you the comfort and assistance you will need. Be wise and say no to drugs and premarital sex. It can save your life. Many young people who have contracted the AIDS virus through sex or contaminated needles have admitted that they were influenced by bad associations. Surely, the apostle Paul’s words have profound meaning to them now. “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits”—and can, in some cases, cost you your life.—1 Corinthians 15:33.