AIDS Expert Predicts Massive Epidemic
A Medical School professor said last night that within the next decade AIDS will spread to millions of individuals in every segment of the population.
Speaking at a public forum on the current status of scientific knowledge about AIDS, Associate Professor of Pathology William A. Haseltine said that the percentage of the American population infected with the AIDS virus is doubling every year.
"If you think you're tired of hearing about AIDS now, I can tell you we're only at the beginning," Haseltine told an audience of 50.
"We can expect a massive wave of disease to descend on hospitals, health care services, and society. What I forsee happening is an increasing sense of panic in the general population," Haseltine said.
In 1980, when AIDS was discovered, there were almost no cases of the disease in this country. Today, two million people have AIDS, said Haseltine.
"This amounts to two to three thousand cases of infection a day over the past year," he said. "It is in the realm of imagination that there will be 50 to 60 million people infected within the next five to ten years."
AIDS may spread throught casual contact, Haseltine said. Although it is is currently known to be transmitted only by sex, donated blood, organs, and semen, and from pregnant mothers to their unborn children, it may also be transmissible by tears, saliva, bodily fluids, and mosquito bites.
"Anyone who tells you categorically that [AIDS] is not contracted by saliva is not telling you the truth," he said. "There are sure to be cases of proved transmission through casual contact."
Promiscuity Breeds Pessimism
Haseltine said that the virus spreads primarily through sexual contact and that, as a result of promiscuity, the disease was likely to continue to spread rapidly.
"The probability of contraction is related to how many partners you have and who they are," he said "It's unrealistic to believe people may change their sexual behavior in a significant way, so this disease will go unchecked."
According to Haseltine, there is a sixty to seventy percent chance that the disease will be transmitted from an infected pregnant woman to her unborn child.
In the future, AIDS research will aim at finding drugs and vaccines that will stop the spread of the disease, Haseltine said.
"It is unrealistic to believe that once someone acquires AIDS, we will ever be able to get rid of it, but we may suppress it and we may stop their ability to transmit the disease," he said. "That's our goal."
Haseltine advocated education about the disease beginning in the junior highschools as a means of slowing the spread of the disease.
Haseltine, who has been one of the leaders in AIDS research, was part of a team of scientists who announced last week an important discovering in the reproductive mechanism of the virus. The researchers are now working on a drug to slow the virus's replication.