Hysterical Nonsense


To the Editors of The Crimson:

It is an insult to my reason and my faith in medical science to read last week's reports that Dr. Vernon Mark, Harvard Medical School associate professor of surgery, has called for a massive testing of the general public for antibodies to the HTLV-III virus associated with AIDS, and what amounts to a quarantine of all persons testing positive, a step directly contradicting even the most strictly and conservatively applied sound medical knowledge. Now, in the Crimson of Dec. 6, I must endure more of this hysterical nonsense. "People are not being told a straight story," says Dr. Mark. "We should have widespread testing for AIDS...We need to know who has this disease. Current public health measures are not enough."

Unless Dr. Mark is in possession of some new discovery about the nature of AIDS which negates all medical research up to this point, he is simply misinformed about the disease's epidemiology and stands to be corrected. AIDS is transmitted when certain bodily fluids of one person who is carrying the HTLV-III virus enter the body of another person. It has never been transmitted by coughing, snee/ing, spitting, doorknobs, tabletops, combs, toilet seats, or any casual or accidental contract, and will not be so transmitted in future. Period. There exists no AIDS risk of which current medical knowledge is not aware. If current medical knowledge is completely applied--if all donated blood is tested for the virus (as it is in Massachusetts), and people refrain from exchanging body fluids, especially during sex, and from sharing hypodermic needles--the spread of HTLV-III from person to person will be reduced to zero.

If these precautions are implemented, people will not stop getting AIDS--a million people currently carry the virus, and some of them will develop the disease--but the virus will not be transmitted to anyone who does not already have it. Period. They are simple to implement, and all of them are essentially risk-free. Dr. Mark, observe: we can reduce the spread of the virus which causes AIDS not by 10 percent, not by 50 percent, but by a 100 percent, and we can do it now, without any recourse to a testing and quarantine program more like something out of Hitler's Germany than anything else. "Current public health measures are not enough" only in the sense that the funding for public education about the necessary precautions which I have outlined above is pitifully and inexcusably inadequate.

Dr. Mark, if my facts are correct (and you may check them with any of your medical school colleagues: I suggest Dr. David Ho, of the Massachusetts General Hospital Infectious Disease Unit), what is your justification for "widespread testing for AIDS," which would be the point of departure for a level of irrational fear, discrimination, and Constitutional chaos the likes of which have never been seen in this country? Your Harvard Medical School appointment lends you credibility, far more than you deserve, but there is no medical justification for such measures. Period. The only one not giving the public a "straight story" is you. Richard B. Mintz '87