Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Huckabee -- a real danger for GLBT people?

The Washington Post has an editorial about Mike Huckabee, "HIV Clueless, What Mike Huckabee hasn't learned" on p A20 of today's Dec. 11 paper, link here.

In literature exams you support things with quotes, and that idea applies here. Huckabee once said "f the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague. . . . It is difficult to understand the public policy towards AIDS. It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents."

And, Oh (like in a Dick and Jane reader) he would say it in a more kind and gentle way today: "when we didn't know as much as we do now about AIDS, we were acting more out of political correctness than we were about the normal public health protocols that we would have acted -- as we have recently, for example, with avian flu. . . . There was also the case of Kimberly Bergalis, who testified before Congress in 1991. She had contracted AIDS from her dentist." Yes, I recall how the Right tossed around the phrases "the dental chain" and "the food chain."

The Post goes on to point out that the Bergalis incident came out later, in 1992, after Magic Johnson had identified himself as positive, and that it was an aberration.

In the mid 1980s, when I was living in Dallas, fearmongers like Paul Cameron and Gene Antonio -- and the notorious "Dallas Doctors Against AIDS" who tried to push for a draconian strengthening then of pre-Bowers Texas sodomy laws -- would speculate about the idea of HIV mutating and becoming casually contagious. By that reasoning, gay men had, through a "Direct Current" "chain letter", "amplified" a previously unknown virus. Of course, it didn't take gay men to amplify it in Africa, and if it changed contagion it would probably change character and become a much less lethal disease (most viruses become less virulent as they spread) and, along the way, become a common STD for heterosexuals -- moving both ways.

The CDC and federal officials were pretty circumspect in allaying rumors in the 1980s (with the exception of a infamous Fauci editorial in 1983 when he ran at the mouth about the possibility of household transmission, well before HTLV-III was identified -- all documented in Randy Shilts 's "And the Band Played On"). Somewhere in all of this, a major gay magazine (The Advocate) had a fictitious picture of a vigorous looking young man behind a barbed-wire quarantine fence, and New York Native editor Charles Ortleb ran scary editorials, like "exposing Mathilda Krim." By about 1986, gay activists may have had good reason to scream "Don't take the test!"

Of course, what's going to be tough now is reconciling this with all the scare talk about TB and Avian influenza, different beasts in epidemiology. We isolate people with drug resistant TB against their will -- even though in practice TB is actually very hard to transmit (HIV positive persons are more susceptible). And we speculate that avian influenza (bird flu) will become transmissible among humans, given enough time for random mutations in H5N1 (or H7N3 as in the movie "Pandemic"). In practice, the likelihood of a real "mega-disaster" like this seems slight, because viruses typically become less lethal as they spread and adapt to their hosts (although we don't know what really happened with the 1918 flu).

All of this has to be understood, of course, in a background where we have long understood that certain infections (HIV, Hepatitis B and C) are transmitted only by direct blood contact, and others start out as airborne. (Eloba is a bit of a mystery, with all of the speculations about suddenly airborn "Ebola Reston" in 1989 from Preston's Hot Zone). Some, like MRSA (the latest scare in schools) seem to require skin contact. This morning, the Post also had a story by Rob Stein (p A01) about an unusual adenovirus, "Virus Starts Like a Cold But Can Turn Into a Killer," here. The planet is a dangerous place, and yet in practice "History Channel" catastrophic changes in things like this are extremely rare.

In the mid 1990s, I knew a middle aged man who said he was HIV positive and still had normal T-cell counts, despite the fact that his lover had died of AIDS back in 1982, fourteen years earlier. Even now, with the slow efforts on vaccine trials, there is so much about the virus that remains a mystery. We're not sure that it necessarily is always fatal for everyone. Some people seem to resist it.

As for Huckabee, it is not comforting that he is making gains in Iowa and South Carolina. Giuliani will probably give everyone a fair shake, being open to lifting the gay ban. Huckabee could force things backwards.

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