New HIV Strain Reaffirms Safe Sex
March 3, 2005 12:14 PM
Three weeks after New York health officials announced that they had detected a previously unknown strain of HIV, students at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Alliance voiced their concern with the possibility of a new strain.
“It’s scary if it is as bad as they say,” said philosophy and French major Topher Simon, 20, a member of LGBA. “It reaffirms the deadliness of HIV. Many people believe if you take AZT (an HIV drug), you will be safe.”
The new strain was detected in a 46-year-old man in New York by doctors at the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in Manhattan. It is resistant to three of the four types of drugs currently used to combat HIV. It is also said to lead to the rapid onset of full-blown AIDS.
Researchers now believe, however, that there are many factors in play and that it may not necessarily be a new, stronger strain of the virus.
“We may well have jumped the gun,” said Dr. Christopher Carrington, SF State professor of sociology and human sexuality. “I’ve known of cases of rapid progression before. It is going to take time to know if we are dealing with something new.”
Although Simon said that he thinks this new strain is scary, he said he does not feel any more at risk than he did before because he knows the risks and is safe.
Heather Rodriguez, a member of the campus sexual health peer education group PEACH, said she believes that people need to realize how important practicing safe sex is. She said that over the years with the manageability of HIV, so many people seem to have forgotten just how risky being unsafe can
“Now, so many gay young men are so complacent because it has been a manageable disease,” Rodriguez said. “This makes them realize that it is still out there and it can kill.”
As far as a new strain of HIV being detected, researchers believe that there is still so much to be learned. There are numerous factors that could be involved in the way the New York man has reacted to the virus, including a breakdown of his immune system due to heavy crystal methamphetamine use.
“This is not a unique set of circumstances,” Carrington said. “HIV is rapidly evolving and the fact of the matter is that we’ve got to keep moving because the virus is constantly moving.”
Carrington also said that he thinks health officials should have all the facts before they make announcements that could cause a widespread fear in the community.
“I think there are unintended consequences when social institutions, like public health, make these such announcements without strong empirical evidence,” Carrington said.
“The fear produced might alter behavior for a short period, but such announcements, if they prove false, also lead many of the populations at greatest risk for HIV to wonder if the institutions have other agendas, and are possibly overstating the risk for one reason or another.”
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