HIV/AIDS: Whose Disease Is It Anyway?

It is difficult to have a discussion about HIV and AIDS without the conversation moving into a causal direction.  Whether the discussion is scholarly or of a casual nature between friends, someone always leads the discussion towards the ‘who, what, why, when, and where’ of HIV transmission.  The purpose of this article is not to become critical of this direction, but to lead the direction.  Embrace this discussion with an open mind and a fastidious desire for knowledge.  The HIV/AIDS discussion inevitably causes minds to question which demographic is most susceptible to contracting this virus.  By the end of this article, one should see that this disease belongs to everyone.  Yes, HIV can become the viral destination for anyone who does not practice safer sex.  It can become the viral destination for anyone who does not arm themselves with information.  Certainly, many demographics fit into the aforementioned categories.

We will skip all of the details about how the virus burst onto the scenes in the 1980’s and was labeled as the gay man’s disease.  Fast forward past the discussion about HIV/AIDS being the destination for intravenous drug users and prostitutes.  Previous reports have delineated those perceptions in complete detail.  We will begin with the green monkey in Africa theory.  This theory is widely discussed and rejected in medical and scientific circles.  The green monkey theory purports that people in Africa contracted the virus from having sex with infected monkeys.  This theory is flawed and insulting to the residents of the Motherland, the birth place of civilization.  It is difficult to imagine a monkey cooperating with a human in a copulation attempt.  Statistics state that due to hectic schedules, married people find it hard to have intimate time.  (You can’t make your wife stop balancing the checkbook in this economy, but you can seduce a monkey?  Great!)  Monkeys have been found to have an HIV infection similar to humans.  The route of transmission may be due to some cultures eating monkey flesh as a delicacy.  It is possible that one could become infected while cutting the meat, usually the brain, and accidentally cutting themselves.  (Please do not laugh or be shocked about people eating monkey brains.  In America, people still eat chitterlings, that carry all of the digestive contents of pigs.  Pigs will eat anything!  That analogy was made so that we keep the conversation informative and scholarly, without judging norms that differ from ours.)

Another scientific application of the green monkey theory is rarely discussed.  This application is most relevant to biomedical researchers.  A vector is a disease carrying agent, such as a mosquito or tick, that carries microorganisms from one host to another.  In the clinical laboratory setting, microorganisms grow on petri dishes.  Petri dishes are half-filled with a nutritious gel called agar.  Different types of agar are used depending on the growing requirements for various types of viruses or bacteria.  Agar must be sterilized to ensure that it is not contaminated before growing the desired microorganism.  Agar comes from boiled kidneys from monkeys, cows, or other animals.  It is then cooled, enriched with other nutrients and antibiotics for purity, and sealed until needed.  The most neglected component of the green monkey theory is that the agar for a certain set of vaccines was contaminated by using the kidneys of sick monkeys.  We are not suggesting that you believe or disbelieve these theories, just be able to speak of them intelligently.  Our job is as much to inform the lay public, as it is to educate the next generation of doctors and biomedical researchers.

The ‘monkeying’ around has just begun.  Fast forward to today’s ‘do you’ and ‘live and let live’ sexual environment.  How safe is your sex?  I wish I could say that being married is a safeguard against sexually transmitted diseases.  My team sees many vaginal Pap smears and fecal samples. The Pap Smear test was developed and named after Dr. Geogios Papanikolaou, a Greek physician.  He noted that cervical cancer could be detected by vaginal smears in 1928, but his work was not widely recognized until 1943 when he published a book about his work with Herbert Traut.  (Side note to all scholars:  You must publish, publish, publish!)  I am busy publishing every day.

Again I ask, “How safe is your sex or your child’s sex?”  Some communities still cannot have an intelligent conversation about an issue that is growing to pandemic proportions.  The African-American community and certain religious communities are preaching abstinence alone.  I wish more people were abstinent.  Looking at such bleak laboratory results is heart-breaking.  Twenty percent (20%) of the American population has genital herpes.  That is 1 in 5 people.  I have seen some 11-year-old girls who are sexually active.  Dear Lord, we need to start talking!  I become more informed every day, as my team evaluates the efficacy of new vaccines.  Examining the post-mortem pelvis tells all of the secrets.  Due to the nature of my work as a lecturer and researcher, I have been showing my children the results since they were in the 2nd grade.  It may sound drastic, but I felt the need to adopt the Latin saying, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”  I am hoping that knowing about mommy’s passion will provide some shock value for making better choices.


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