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What If HIV Had Never Happened?

By Dave R.

August 14, 2013

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'What ifs ...' are a glass half empty, late night go-to for many a positive person, but of course each 'what if' is really only a salve for the soul; it doesn't provide answers. They're essentially self-pity mechanisms but end up only reminding you of wrong turnings and mistakes made. We've all been there though and many people will have asked themselves at least once. What if HIV never existed? How would my life look now? Irrespective of its relevance to your personal situation, it's an interesting conundrum and one which can certainly make you think.

So, what if ... HIV really had never happened?

To begin with, you have to look back to the last point in time before you were diagnosed. I suppose that really depends on whether you are 'PH' or 'PrH' (well, they're giving acronyms to everything else: Post-Highly Active Retroviral Therapy (HAART) or Pre-HAART). Then again, if you are Post-HAART and HIV has never happened then you disappear from the time-space continuum anyway; so maybe it's better to concentrate on people who were infected before HAART came along.

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Then you have to ask the question: Would the party have just continued deep into the 21st century because make no mistake, there was a no-holds barred, all you can eat party, from the late '60s until HIV came along and spoiled the fun.

"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -- WOW -- What a Ride!"

Attributed to Bill McKenna (motorcycle rider), Anonymous and a Nissan ad. There are less polite versions!

The above is a proclamation that appears on so many internet profiles. It reflects both the pre-HIV joy in gay sexual liberation and the post-HIV determination to live life to the full anyway. It more or less insists that "what ifs" are a waste of energy and HIV should only be seen as an impediment and not a road block. I wonder though how many people truly believe their own war cry. It reeks of bravado rather than reality.

Of course, the reason why LGBT people were partying to excess was due to the social and sexual revolutions begun in the 1960s. It was the newly-grown up, post-war generation who, sickened by wars and the ever present threat of nuclear extinction, created women's lib, women's contraception (the Pill), gay lib and black power amongst other forms of emancipation for minorities. People had had enough of the sexual repression and dourness of the '50s and spontaneously spoke out for the freedom to do what you wanted with your own body. It was a liberating feeling and you felt immortal.

I was 18 in 1968 and believe me, although not everybody enjoyed sexual freedom (my theory being that those who were cramped by convention, now run the political and corporate worlds), millions did, myself included. Parents, puritans and Popes were shocked rigid but nobody really believed Pandora's Box could be closed again. It was plus/minus a decade where sexuality was explored and re-invented and the morals and social restrictions of previous generations were discarded. Nothing new in this really; if you look back through human history, it has happened again and again before repression returned to spoil the fun.

However, not repression but HIV/AIDS arrived and parents, preachers and politicians did their "I told you so" dances right down the aisles.

Conspiracy theorists point to the arrival of HIV as being anything but accidental and it's wickedly tempting to think that the plague was brought about by deliberate "intervention" but of course until a new Edward Snowden pops up with shocking revelations, there's not a shred of evidence. Politicians, church leaders and traditionalists may have wanted to invent a means of stopping the LGBT sexual revolution in its tracks but even a born cynic like me can't imagine that the men in grey suits actually employed chemical warfare to root us out; they wouldn't ... right?

So looking at that point in history before patient zero, what would have happened if HIV had never emerged? Would something else equally devastating have taken its place?

To evaluate that possibility, you really have to look back at the history of sexually transmitted diseases. If humanity has a record of deadly, sexual viruses or bacterial infection, then you might reasonably assume that if it hadn't been HIV then it would have been something else. The thing is, that HIV is actually the first known deadly virus to be transmitted sexually and other viral STDs (Hepatitis A, B, C; Herpes, HPV and Human T-lymphotropic virus Type 1 (HTLV 1) linked to simian HIV strains) are also relatively modern. That's not to say that they definitely haven't appeared earlier in human history; only modern diagnosis techniques have been able to identify viruses with any degree of certainty, so they just may not have been recognized as viral infections in the past. We also know that HIV isn't the first deadly STD. Syphilis often proved to be a slow killer before the discovery of antibiotics and what's more, it was easily passed on from parent to child. Syphilis however, is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum and is not a virus.

Looking back at the sexual medical history of mankind, it can be divided roughly into three sections:

  • In ancient times, if sexual diseases existed and were treated, any knowledge has been lost or was never recorded.
  • Then for 500 or more years, sexual diseases were recognized but as nothing could be done about them, they were feared and treated ad hoc often with some degree of unpleasantness and a definite social stigma attached. Syphilis was widely reported in Europe when there seemed to be a continent-wide epidemic in the early 1500s. It was widely referred to as the Pox. However, even in ancient times, cultures from around the world reported the incidence of syphilis but where and how it emerged is not known. Syphilis and gonorrhea were even thought to be one disease. It was only in the early 20th century, when the different microorganisms were identified under microscopes and reliable diagnostic tests were developed that progress began in treating the two separately. One slightly amusing fact about syphilis, or "the great pox" is that every country blamed each other for its arrival. In the middle Ages, the English called it names like; like "French pox." The French blamed the Italians and called it the "Neapolitan itch." The Italians blamed the Portuguese; the Portuguese accused the Spanish; the Germans fingered the Poles. Since then, prostitutes from Africa, East Europeans, Mexicans, and of course homosexuals have all shouldered the blame for the spread of syphilis and then HIV.
  • The 20th Century brought definite medical breakthroughs, largely thanks to the discovery of antibiotics and accurate diagnosis. However, despite the advances of the last century, we can cure STDs caused by bacteria, parasites and fungi but we can't cure STDs caused by viruses! Some bacteria though, can kill you if left untreated and some complications of other STDs can be very serious. Making sure that there is universal antibiotic treatment available, especially in the Third World, will help prevent the emergence of new and resistant strains.

The other main viral STD problems we face today are Hepatitis, Herpes and HPV (human papilloma virus). Herpes simplex, which is responsible for genital herpes, has only really been a widespread problem since the 1960's. Again, that's as far as is known; it's perfectly possible that it has existed for hundreds of years but was identified with other sexual diseases. It was certainly mentioned by a French doctor in 1736, and in the 19th century, it was often seen as a side effect of syphilis or gonorrhea.

Similarly, it's difficult to imagine that HPV, (responsible for genital warts and now linked to genital cancers) has only emerged in the 20th century. It seems logical to assume that advances in science have resulted in its identification as a separate viral sexual problem. HPV also has various different forms and only the most modern techniques can diagnose them and their consequences.

Once again, modern science has been able to identify the different strains of hepatitis and diagnose them as viral, although hepatitis as a disease has long been recognized. Certainly the consequences and potential threats of hepatitis are now much better appreciated than a century ago.

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HIV, Neuropathy and More: Avoiding Becoming a Nervous Wreck


Dave R.

Dave R.

English but living since 1986 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. HIV+ since 2004 and a neuropathy patient since 2007. I've seen quite a bit, done quite a bit and bought quite a few t-shirts if you know what I mean; but all that baggage makes me what I am today: a better person I believe, despite it all.

Arriving on TheBody.com, originally, was the end result of getting neuropathy as a side effect of the medication, or the virus, or both. I found it such a vague disease and discovered very little information that wasn't commercially tinged, or scientifically impenetrable, so I decided to create a daily Blog and a website where practical information, hints, tips and experiences for patients could be gathered together in one place.

However, I was also given the chance to write about other aspects of living with HIV and have now contributed more articles about those than about neuropathy. That said, neuropathy remains my 'core subject' although one which unfortunately dominates both my life and that of many other HIV-positive people.

I'm not a doctor or qualified medical expert, just someone with neuropathy and HIV who has spent the last few years researching the illness and trying to create information sources for people who want to know more.

I also have my own personal website and write for PositiveLite.com.


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