HIV/AIDS Newsroom: August 25, 2000
Communicating the Threat of Emerging Infections to the Public
Emerging Infectious Diseases Online (www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/index.htm)
08/00 Vol. 6, No. 4,; Freimuth, Vicki; Linnan, Huan W.; Potter, Polyxeni
Communication theory is a valuable tool for public health officials to use to reach the public regarding emerging infectious organisms, surveillance needs, and microbial resistance. Since the start of the AIDS epidemic, an emphasis on prevention has called on the role of communication to reach a large target audience. Communication increases public awareness and can change attitudes regarding a disease. Communication theory relies on four categories: audience, message, source, and channel. The message is typically given in simple and positive language that provides a solution or a way to improve the situation. The channel, such as the mass media, is important if behaviors are to change. For example, the America Responds to AIDS campaign included radio announcements, posters, bus ads, hotlines, and television shows. It is also important the media deliver an accurate message that can also be understood by laymen. The researchers, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, note that "with health information readily available, the final decisions (and responsibility) about individual health are increasingly transferred from the healthcare provider to the patient who is most profoundly and directly affected by treatment and prevention measures."
In order to start school this year, seventh graders in New York must have started the three-shot vaccination series against hepatitis B. According to the State Health Department, the majority of hepatitis B cases develop in adolescence or early adulthood, increasing the risks of developing liver cancer and other conditions. In addition, seventh grade is a time when some youngsters start trying such risky behaviors as unprotected sex, drug use, and tattooing with dirty needles -- all of which can spread hepatitis B.
US to Raise Public Awareness About Hepatitis C
Reuters Health Information Services (www.reutershealth.com)
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability has voted to increase public awareness of hepatitis C virus infection, as part of the Surgeon General's nationwide effort. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher had previously announced plans to send a "Dear Citizen" letter regarding the risks of hepatitis C, but the project would cost about $30 million. The money may instead be used on a public service announcement during high-profile television events like the Superbowl. The chair of the committee, Dr. Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania, agreed that the television commercial would reach more people than a letter.
A hepatitis C virus (HCV) epidemic is underway in the United States. The Florida Department of Health has launched a campaign urging HCV testing for people with risk factors, especially those who received blood products before 1992. Also, starting in October, the state will run a hotline that people can call anonymously to determine whether they should be tested for the virus; qualified individuals will then be mailed a confidential home testing kit free of charge. The number of HCV-infected individuals in Florida is estimated between 270,000 and 500,000. Nationwide, at least 3.9 million Americans are infected with HCV, which is spread through blood-to-blood contact, such as needle sharing and body piercing with unclean instruments. Symptoms can take 30 years to develop, and they include jaundice, liver disease, and mental confusion. Some patients who never used injection drugs contracted the virus from a transfusion, and veterans are also at risk for the virus. While there are vaccines for hepatitis A and B, the development of one for hepatitis C could take years due to its ability to mutate. Treatment for HCV is grueling, consisting of interferon shots and ribavirin pills. Some patients will also require liver transplants to survive.
Home pregnancy tests went on the market over 20 years ago, and now the options for home testing range from HIV to diabetes. Home testing appeals to many patients who want to save money and choose a convenient method. But some doctors have expressed concern about the lack of face-to-face interaction with home HIV tests, particularly for prevention counseling. "People usually have some form of at-risk behavior that prompts them to get the HIV test," notes internist Dr. Barry Rotman of Walnut Creek, California. "It's the counseling to change that behavior that's the most important part of the interaction in getting the test." It is also essential to make sure that the test has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and that the user does not rely exclusively on the home test results.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh studied semen and blood samples of 18 asymptomatic HIV-1-infected men not receiving protease inhibitors. The researchers found three patterns of viral shedding in the men, with intermittent HIV-1 shedding the most common. The authors suggest that continuous shedders had equal viral distribution in semen and blood and were more likely to have multiple sex partners. The research is published in the July issue of the Journal of Infectious Diseases (2000;182:79-87).
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) spoke recently at a forum discussion that focused on AIDS and how to educate the public about HIV. Over 100 health experts and activists attended the discussion at the John Hope Settlement House in Rhode Island. Reed explained that new HIV cases are growing fast, especially among minority communities. Complacency is a key obstacle to the incidence of AIDS in children and minorities. Dr. David Pugatch of Rhode Island Hospital agreed that prevention education was needed, reaching everyone who has sex, including teens.
Weary of misinformation regarding sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), Lisa Butler -- a high school teacher in Louisiana -- has offered to be the Jefferson Parish coordinator for the Governor's Program on Abstinence. The program includes a 100-city tour through the state to promote abstinence and educate people about STDs. The program emphasizes that the only way to completely prevent STDs is through abstinence. Dr. Dee Burbank, a New Orleans pediatrician, believes that promoting condoms for safer sex is not the best message to send teens, since the prophylactics cannot prevent human papillomavirus. Louisiana's program uses an act that grants $50 million a year to states for abstinence education programs, giving the state $1.6 million annually for five years, with a mandatory state and local match of $1.2 million. State program coordinator Dan Richey said they plan to launch abstinence-based sex education classes in public schools, hopefully with "abstinence clubs" and no-sex pledge cards.
President Clinton's visit to Africa this weekend will focus on democracy in Nigeria and rebuilding trust in government. Clinton will meet with Nigerian President Obasanjo Saturday and discuss issues affecting Africa. During his trip, Clinton will discuss various health issues, including infectious diseases like AIDS.
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.