AIDS: Is it a Modern Plague?
In some parts of the world there are still wars being fought and dictators in power. There are societies which consider themselves at the peak of evolution and progress. They are able to create state of the art automobiles, luxurious homes, efficient and organized industries, complex computerized machinery and atomic weapons. Many societies are governed by a democratic system which herald a belief in freedom.
All societies, regardless of their political and economic makeup, are also ruled by a special class of dictators; these dictators are unseen to the naked eye, and are invincible. These invisible tyrants are microorganisms. Underdeveloped countries, technologically advanced countries, and those in between are at the mercy of these microorganisms, which come in many forms – viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. The most dangerous of these forms is the virus. Some viruses, such as the common flu, are considered to have a fairly detrimental capacity. The flu can incapacitate a human for several weeks with various symptoms such as bodily soreness, fever, bronchial complications, and even pneumonia. But while these conditions can be painful and frightening, we are usually confident that proper medication and rest will take care of the matter.
However there is a much more severe and indiscriminate tyrant, with enormous corrupting influence, capable of infiltrating all of civilization. Scientifically, it is a submicroscopic pathogen consisting of a particle of nucleic acid, enclosed in proteins, and able to replicate only within a living cell. Socially, it is responsible for an enormous amount of chaos and fear in the world today, and pronounces the human fault of ignorance. Can it be considered to be a modern plague?
This complex and confusing king of all tyrants is called Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV. HIV is a retrovirus. Retroviruses are commonly identified in many animal species, but HIV and its variants, such as HTLV I, HTLV II, HTLV III are among the rare retroviruses found in humans. It is transmitted through blood, semen, and vaginal secretions.
HIV is a retrovirus of the Lentivirus group and is the etiologic agent of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). AIDS was first recognized as a disease syndrome in 1981; HIV was identified as its cause in 1984. AIDS is a life and death issue. To have the AIDS disease is at present a sentence of slow but inevitable death. There currently is neither a cure, nor an effective treatment, and no vaccine either. But there are things that have been proven immensely effective in slowing the spread of this hideously lethal disease.
Scientist believe that the disease originated somewhere in Africa about 20 years ago. HIV antibodies were found in serum drawn in parts of Africa in the early 1970, leading many investigators to believe that the disease originated in Africa, spreading to the Caribbean, and then to the United States. In Africa it first appeared as a mysterious ailment afflicting primarily heterosexuals of both sexes. It probably was spread especially fast by female prostitutes living there. AIDS has already become a crisis of staggering proportions in parts of Africa. In Zaire, it is estimated that over twenty percent of the adults currently carry the virus. That figure is increasing.
On a global scale, the AIDS epidemic is rapidly expanding. Africa, which represents about 10 percent of the global population, now accounts for more than 60 percent of the total HIV infections among adults worldwide. In comparison, North America and South America combined account for less than 20 percent of the adult HIV infections. More than 90 percent of HIV infections in Africa are due to heterosexual transmission. An AIDS epidemic is also emerging in Asia, where new HIV infections increased by 80 percent in the last three years, and estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that AIDS in Asia will cause unprecedented rates of infection and death.
The major strain of HIV in the North America, Europe, and central Africa is known as HIV-1. In western Africa, AIDS is also caused by HIV-2, a strain of HIV closely related to HIV-1. Other distantly related strains of HIV-1 have been identified in various areas of the world. Although some of these strains cannot be detected using the current blood-screening methods, there is little risk of spread to North America because of the geographic isolation of these viruses. Even in the case of HIV-2, spread outside Africa is rare. Only 18 cases of HIV-2 have been documented in the United States, and transmission in these cases was linked directly to western Africa.
Currently, this invisible tyrant is so dominant that our basic values of “Make Love not War” have been twisted into an anxious cry of “Make Love and Die”. This disease is causing a great deal of pain and sorrow. We need to reason and evaluate the truth of the matter and to adapt to a way of life in order to minimize further casualties.
If we declare war on HIV, educate in preventing the spread of this disease, and avoid stigmatizing and discriminating based on misinformation, we are well on our way to at least neutralizing HIV. Moral awareness should also be increased in an effort to have better use of the education we possess. This includes those in the medical profession.
At this juncture, the chance to find a cure for retroviruses, especially the HIV virus, are less likely than it is for the virus to evolve into a non-deadly form. Perhaps then it will come to be considered one of the lesser, invisible tyrants. Once again I ask “Is AIDS a modern plague?” I guess it remains to be seen.