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Are people exaggerating?
Jan 1, 2006

Hi Doctor Bob!!

Sorry to write you again. If you answer any one of my letters I will stop, I promise! ;)

It seems to me that people are really freaking out for no reason. Why don't you tell them this? No one is going to get HIV from touching a stripper's g string!!!

After reading about HIV for 3 months I have learned it's kind of a hard virus to get. The average person has had sex with at least 4 or 5 people by the time they graduate college, right? Of course some have more or some have less, but usually there are a couple one night stands in there, too, right? If this is what causes HIV, why isn't most of america's young people infected?

A lot of my friends stop using condoms once they are serious with someone. These are college educated, middle class, non hard drug users. I asked them if they ever worry about HIV and they all said no. No one is worried but me, it seems.

Everyone told me to relax, that your average person in america doesn't get HIV unless they have risky behavior, like shooting up drugs or being gay and having lots of anal sex unprotected. Is this true, or not?

When I look at the statistics I compare myself. I'm female. I'm white. I had unprotected sex with 3 people in my life. They are all circumsized. They are all not gay or even bi. They are white too. They never shot up drugs. I never shot up drugs.

It doesn't seem like that many people lik me get HIV. When I look at the number of white women who tested postive in my town last year it was like 4 (and I live in a BIG HUGE town), they were probably drug addicts also.

So why does everyone keep freaking out? Why don't you tell people to relax more?

Response from Dr. Frascino

Hi,

I agree with some of your statements and strongly disagree with others. Let me address them in order:

1. It seems that people are really freaking out for no reason. I agree. Some folks worry needlessly that they might catch HIV form sweat, tears, a casual kiss or a mosquito bite. I agree no one is going to get HIV from touching a stripper's g-string at the local Badda Bing.

2. Why don't I tell these folks not to freak out? I do! Take a read through the archives. There are at least a gazillion examples!

3. The virus is hard to get. Again I agree. Generally speaking, this is true. It's much more difficult than most people fear, yet we shouldn't forget there are 60,000 new infections in the U.S. every year and over 40,000,000 people infected worldwide.

4. Why aren't most of America's young people, who have had unprotected sex, infected with HIV? The answer to this is above, i.e. HIV isn't all that easy to contract. For instance, the estimated statistical risk for acquiring HIV per episode of unprotected receptive vaginal intercourse with an HIV-infected partner is 10 per 10,000 exposures. That may seem like a whole lotta nookie, but remember this is a "per episode" risk statistic. It is indeed possible to become infected with only a single episode of unprotected sex.

5. Being college educated, middle class and non-hard-drug using does not make someone immune to HIV, nor does it mean these folks are particularly savvy about HIV prevention. In fact, if they are having unprotected sex and are not worried about HIV, I say they are either uninformed, misinformed or just plain foolish.

6. I agree people (average or not) don't get HIV unless they have risky behavior. However, risky behavior includes not only sharing IV drug paraphernalia and having unprotected anal sex, but also unprotected vaginal sex as well! The virus doesn't care or know if you are straight as a lawn dart or Fire-Island gay.

7. Your three unprotected episodes placed you at risk for STDs and HIV on three separate occasions. STD screening and HIV testing is warranted.

8. "It doesn't seem like that many people like me get HIV." Wrong! Dead wrong! It's exactly people like you (people who think they are not really at risk) who are the most vulnerable and who are becoming infected!

9. Why do folks keep freaking out? Often they are freaking out over the wrong thing. They have irrational fears of being HIV infected.

10. Why don't I tell people to relax more? I do. Once again, check the archives. I say, "Stay safe; stay well." If they do stay safe, they will stay well, and can relax. To you, on the other hand, I'd say if you're having unprotected sex, you should not relax, but rather you should be tested and learn how to protect yourself effectively from a very real danger.

Dr. Bob



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