AIDS: Spreading Mystery Disease

August 9, 1985

Report Outline
Protecting the Public
Coping with Epidemics
Impact on Society
Special Focus

Protecting the Public

Disease Not Confined to Homosexual Men

Aids had slipped out of the media spotlight in recent months only to return in a burst of publicity with the announcement that actor Rock Hudson suffers from the often-fatal disease. Hudson became AIDS' (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) first celebrity victim, focusing new attention on its spread. While medical researchers have made strides in unlocking the secrets of the mysterious disease, there still is no treatment, much less a cure. The disease was first diagnosed in 1981 and half of the nation's 12,000 victims are already dead; most of the deaths occur within two years of diagnosis. Researchers anticipate 250,000 cases in the United States alone—and many more abroad—by 1990. And there is evidence that the disease may be breaking out of its high-risk groups—male homosexuals and intravenous drug abusers.

Aids attacks the body's immune system, leaving its victims highly susceptible to lethal infections and cancer. Researchers believe that the disease is caused by a virus transmitted through body fluids, mainly blood and semen. Sexual contact among homosexual men is the disease's primary means of transmission in the United States. But AIDS is not strictly a “gay plague,” the pejorative misnomer that has lulled most people into indifference. “The virus that causes AIDS somehow got introduced into the homosexual population in which the lifestyle tends to spread the disease,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at Bethesda, Md. “But it is not and never has been a gay disease. And that has been a problem of public perception.…”

While 72 percent of the reported cases are among homosexual and bisexual men, other high-risk groups include intravenous drug abusers, hemophiliacs and children born to mothers infected with the virus. Two percent of the reported cases involve people who received transfusions of AIDS-contaminated blood. But the recent development of a test to screen donated blood for the virus is expected to diminish considerably the number of transfusion-caused cases.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
AIDS/HIV and Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Sep. 18, 2012  Conquering AIDS
Oct. 2009  Rescuing Children
Oct. 26, 2007  Battling HIV/AIDS
Dec. 03, 2004  Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Oct. 13, 2000  Global AIDS Crisis
Dec. 04, 1998  AIDS Update
Apr. 21, 1995  Combating AIDS
Dec. 25, 1992  Women and AIDS
Oct. 06, 1989  Good News and Bad About Aids
Dec. 16, 1988  AIDS Update
Nov. 06, 1987  AIDS Dilemmas
Aug. 09, 1985  AIDS: Spreading Mystery Disease
Jan. 19, 1979  Venereal Disease: Continuing Problem
Jun. 10, 1960  Venereal Disease Control
Jan. 09, 1943  Venereal Disease in the Armed Forces
Oct. 25, 1938  Control of Venereal Diseases