Reassurance and warning on AIDS. Reports say it can't be transmitted casually; urge research
Two reports in the last 10 days offer reassurance but also a warning to Americans about the disease AIDS . The reports differ on some points. But they agree on basic issues:
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is not transmitted between humans through casual social contact.
American society must put major new emphases immediately on both education and research on AIDS to stop the spread of the disease, now considered medically incurable.
Last week's report, widely publicized, was by C. Everett Koop, the surgeon general of the United States; the new report, issued Wednesday, is by the American Academy of Sciences.
The academy's report recommends a coordinated approach to conquering the disease, at an annual cost of $2 billion by 1990. President Reagan, it said, should ``take a strong leadership role'' in the program, and should ensure that adequate funds are available.
The two reports noted that education about the disease is important for two reasons: to prevent its spread, and to diminish unfounded public fear about the way AIDS is contracted.
Equally as important as educating young people about the spread, the academy report notes, ``are clear messages that AIDS is not spread by casual contact.'' ``There is no known risk of nonsexual infection,'' agrees the Koop report, ``in most of the situations we encounter in our daily lives.'' The two communications repeat prior statements by physicians that AIDS is known to be spread only through sexual relations with someone with AIDS, or by sharing intravenous devices with someone with the disease.
Surgeon General Koop points out that concern about contracting the illness may do what repeated appeals to morality have had difficulty accomplishing: ``It may bring to an end the free-wheeling sexual life style which has been called the sexual revolution.''
The issue has become increasingly political. In next week's California election, voters will decide whether AIDS carriers should be quarantined.
How, when, and by whom children are informed about AIDS, its transmission and prevention, also seems likely to be the subject of sharp debate.
Both Koop and the academy urge that, as part of the effort to educate Americans on prevention of the spread of AIDS, there be sex education in the schools which includes information on AIDS.
The academy report says this should be ``as direct as possible''; Koop says it should be taught as part of any hygiene or health class as soon as children begin to ask questions about sex, which he identified as about the third grade.
Yet many Americans continue to feel that sex education, presumably including information about AIDS, is the responsibility and right of parents, not school systems.
School systems will have to sort out for themselves how they will respond to these cross pressures.
Both reports unequivocably oppose mandatory screening for AIDS. ``Not necessary,'' says the Koop report. ``The procedure could be unmanageable and cost prohibitive.''
The academy's report calls involuntary screening of all Americans ``impossible to justify now on either ethical or practical grounds.'' The academy adds that requiring such screening of groups most at risk, such as homosexuals and drug users, ``raises serious problems of ethics and feasibility.''
``People whose private behavior is illegal are not likely to comply with a mandatory screening program, even one backed by assurances of confidentiality,'' the academy reports. ``Mandatory screening based on sexual orientation would appear to discriminate against or to coerce entire groups without justification.''