Commentary & Opinion
Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report Summarizes Editorials in Response to Detection of Rare, Drug-Resistant HIV Strain
February 17, 2005
Officials from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene last week announced they had detected in a local man a rare strain of HIV that is highly resistant to most antiretroviral drugs and possibly causes a rapid onset of AIDS. The city health department issued an alert to physicians, hospitals and medical providers asking them to test all HIV-positive patients for evidence of the strain. This combination of highly drug-resistant HIV and rapid progression to AIDS has not been identified before, and Dr. David Ho, director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center -- where the patient was diagnosed as HIV-positive in December 2004 -- said the combination is "alarming" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/14). Several newspapers have published editorials and opinion pieces in response to the announcement. Some of them are summarized below.
Louisville Courier-Journal: New York health officials have been "accused of needlessly scaring people, but secrecy in matters of life and death is no virtue," a Courier-Journal editorial says. People who do not live in large cities "[t]oo often" are "complacent about bad news in those cities," the editorial says, concluding that "when it comes to HIV and AIDS, no community is immune and no complacency anywhere is warranted" (Louisville Courier-Journal, 2/15).
New Orleans Times-Picayune: The announcement is a "sobering development" that is "certainly" the "wake-up call" that New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said it is, a Times-Picayune editorial says. The availability of effective antiretroviral medications, which allow HIV-positive people to live longer and healthier lives, should not "lull people into unsafe behavior," because AIDS is a "fatal and incurable disease," according to the editorial. Although that should be "incentive enough" to practice safe sex, the rare strain further "underscores the importance of safe sex," the editorial concludes (New Orleans Times-Picayune, 2/14).
New York Daily News: The "terrifying" and "infuriating" announcement illustrates that "far too many New Yorkers have forgotten the tragic lessons of the 1980s," when HIV/AIDS took its "heaviest toll on the city's gay community," a Daily News editorial says. This "mass amnesia" about the disease now extends to the warnings from the city's health department, which some have dismissed as "scare tactics," the editorial says, adding that as health officials "sort out whether a superbug has truly arrived, the gay community must reinforce the safe-sex message to old and young, urging a return to responsibility." The editorial concludes, "This backsliding into self-destructive behavior must stop" (New York Daily News, 2/15).
San Francisco Chronicle: In an environment where many have been "lull[ed]" into believing that HIV infection is "nothing to fear," the rare HIV strain could be "devastating" because the "hard-won gains" that have slowed incidence and mortality rates in an "older generation" could disappear if the younger generation "isn't listening," a Chronicle editorial says. The New York case "should underscore the need for careful detection work to evaluate" the HIV strain and "reawaken people" to how HIV is transmitted, the editorial concludes (San Francisco Chronicle, 2/15).
Seattle Post-Intelligencer: The detection of the rare HIV strain "carries a scary message" that the virus "has continued to spread despite medical advances," according to a Post-Intelligencer editorial. Although education efforts and legislation might help curb the spread of HIV, "[r]ules can only go so far," the editorial says, concluding, "AIDS remains a deadly and uncontained epidemic that must constantly be taken seriously" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2/17).
Tennessean: The country's "complacency" about HIV/AIDS is "deadly" because the detection of the rare strain could "send [treatment efforts] back to square one," a Tennessean editorial says. "The best way to fight AIDS, no matter the strain, is not to let it start," the editorial says, concluding, "Condom use should be publicly promoted, as should clean needles for drug users. Public information campaigns should be candid and specific. The nation can't stop the problem, but it must address the risks" (Tennessean, 2/16).
- Bill Bowtell, Sydney Morning Herald: "Before embracing whatever half-brained ideas about how to respond to this potential HIV problem emerge from America's political process," Australia "must first separate opinion from fact" because "looming moral panic" about the rare HIV strain "will be drummed up for U.S. domestic political reasons by self-appointed experts," Bowtell, former senior adviser to Australia's federal health minister and former national president of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, writes in a Morning Herald opinion piece. Condoms, needle-exchange programs, "honest" sex education and "Australian common sense" will help prevent HIV transmission "far better than laws based on fear, prejudice and ignorance of the evidence accumulated from 25 years of controlling HIV spread in Australia," Bowtell concludes (Bowtell, Sydney Morning Herald, 2/17).
- Richard Cohen, Washington Post: Unprotected, "promiscuous sex" and using drugs such as crystal methamphetamine to "prolong both desire and performance are practices that should be no more acceptable for gays than heterosexuals," columnist Cohen writes in a Post opinion piece. Although people living with HIV/AIDS are "first and foremost human beings" and are "[e]ntitled to their own sexuality," they are not entitled to "behavior that endangers others, costs us all plenty and, too often, entails a determined self-destruction that too many heterosexuals overlook," Cohen concludes (Cohen, Washington Post, 2/17).
- Laurie Garrett, Los Angeles Times: Although the warning from health officials was "exactly right," it "didn't take long for the naysayers to appear," Garrett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning health journalist and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes in a Times opinion piece. Such reactions are "hogwash" because "[d]enial and silence are the true dangers," according to Garrett, who concludes, "We can't keep pretending that resistant forms of HIV will always be clinically weak, or that widespread use of HIV drugs will not promote evolution of new, much harder-to-treat forms of HIV. We can't tell our public health officials that we would simply rather not know the bad news about AIDS" (Garrett, Los Angeles Times, 2/16).
- Mike King, Atlanta Journal-Constitution: If even the detection of the rare HIV strain is an isolated case, "we can expect renewed calls for more widespread" HIV testing because the "cost of routine testing would be more than outweighed by a reduction in new infections and the opportunity to start treatment early," columnist King writes in a Journal-Constitution opinion piece. "Combating an unrelenting enemy like HIV has always been a battle to be fought on numerous fronts -- changing behavior, tracing sexual contacts, testing early and often, developing new and effective drugs and perhaps, one day, a vaccine," King writes, concluding, "It is the only way to stay one step ahead of a virus whose evolutionary mission is to survive, no matter what we hit it with" (King, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2/17).
- James Pinkerton, Long Island Newsday: "We know a lot about AIDS in the laboratory, but out on the streets, foolishness often reigns," and the "benighted darkness in human nature ... thwart[s] scientific enlightenment," columnist Pinkerton writes in a Newsday opinion piece. Although there is science and progress, "there's always human nature -- which means that there's always tragedy, wasted opportunity and a terrible, terrible wonder to it all," Pinkerton concludes (Pinkerton, Long Island Newsday, 2/17).
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Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at www.kaisernetwork.org/dailyreports/hiv. The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of the Kaiser Family Foundation, by The Advisory Board Company. © 2004 by The Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.