WTH, Part 3

In June 1981 the CDC published an article about five young, white, previously healthy gay men in Los Angeles who died of a rare lung infection. These young men also had other infections that suggested their immune systems were not functioning. Two died before the publication of the article, and the rest would die shortly thereafter. The same day the article was published a New York doctor called the CDC to report a cluster of cases of a rare and unusually aggressive cancer among gay men in New York and California. Three days later the CDC organized a task force to investigate these opportunistic infections.

In December 1981 a pediatric immunologist was treating five black infants showing signs of severe immune deficiency. Three of the children had mothers involved in the sex industry. The doctor recognized the signs of the same illness affecting gay men, but other colleagues dismissed his diagnosis.

Thus began what the New York Times the following year would label GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency). Their acronym would not last. In September of 1982 the CDC would use the term AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), which would last. This syndrome became extremely controversial because of religious sentiments from conservative Christians who viewed the homosexual association of the disease with God’s disapproving will and judgment. This resulted in the infection become a political issue.

In January 1983 the CDC hosted a conference with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), gay activists and the Red Cross to develop a plan. No consensus was reached about what to do.
In March 1983 the CDC published an article reporting that most cases of AIDS have been reported among gay men with multiple sexual partners, people who inject drugs, Haitians, and people with hemophilia. This stigmatized Haitians for two years, until they were dropped from this list in 1985.

In July 1985 Rock Hudson announced he had AIDS. He died in October 1985, age 59. In August of that year an Indiana teenage hemophiliac, Ryan White, was refused entry to his middle school because of contracting AIDS. His case was impossible to dismiss as a moral judgment by an angry Christian god. Public opinion began to change somewhat. Blood transfusions resulted in many other infections, before a test was developed to screen the blood supply.

These events happened in the early years of the AIDS scare. Make no mistake, it was a “scare” and the responses in those early years were emotional, political, religious and very often foolish. There are many things which were said or written in that time frame which, in retrospect, should embarrass those who were vocal.
It would require time, a great deal more research, many deaths, and much greater maturity before the AIDS health threat was successfully addressed and a form of “remission” achieved. The history of those early years should inform us today about reacting, overreacting, and injudicious temperament about illnesses.

Right now, COVID-19 is in the early “scary” years, and much of what is being said is, like the early days of AIDS, emotional, political, religious, and in the long term destined to be regarded as often foolish. We are in a short season of raw emotion that will pass with time. It gives us a chance to consider how we are individually reacting. Should we be as fearful as we are? Remember, there are still a lot of unknowns. Should we be as judgmental and unkind in our reactions to others about this issue as we are? Should we regard the virus as a political opportunity, or something to arouse political sentiments? Should we regard it as vindicating or undermining the will of God? Why?

Friendships have been and are being undermined because of conflicting opinions about this virus. A great deal of the basis for the current opinions are based upon rumors, suspicions, fears and outright lies. Both ill-informed social media and respected leaders have used this as a wedge issue to divide us. Why are we letting that happen? It is our choice to respond with fear and anger. No matter who is cheerleading the decision to become upset and disaffected with one another, we decide whether to control our emotions and to react deliberatively and charitably. Oftentimes dividing the public into opposing camps is a way to distract and confuse people. It hides other, more important, ongoing irresponsibility happening in law, education, business and government.

There are things we ought to be fearing, but they are not on the front page of news outlets, nor trending on social media