As a journalist who writes about AIDS, I am endlessly amazed by the difference between the public and the private face of HIV--between what the public is told and what's explained in the medical literature. The public face of HIV is known well: HIV is a sexually transmitted virus that preys particularly on gay men, African Americans, drug users, and just about all of Africa, though we're all at risk. We're encouraged to be tested because, as the MTV ads say, "knowing is beautiful." We also know that AIDS drugs are all that's stopping the entire African continent from falling into the sea.
The medical literature spells it out differently--quite differently. The journals that review HIV tests, drugs, and patients, as well as the instructional material from medical schools, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and HIV test manufacturers, will agree with the public perception in the large print. But when you get past the titles, they'll tell you, unabashedly, that HIV tests are not standardized; that they're arbitrarily interpreted; that HIV is not required for AIDS; and, finally, that the term HIV does not describe a single entity but a collection of non-specific, cross-reactive cellular material.
That's quite a difference.
The popular view is sustained by concerned people desperate to help the millions of Africans stricken with AIDS, the same disease that first afflicted young gay American men in the 1980s. The medical literature differs on this point. It says that AIDS in Africa has always been diagnosed differently than AIDS in the United States.
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