The media is full of aids stories these days. Articles in different newspapers and magazines headline the death of celebrities, new aids tests, and controversies about who should be tested, promising advances in the research labs, and frustrating and tragic problems of coping with the disease using the treatments available today. Aids is not only pervading the newspapers and magazines, but the television fare as well, not only the news items and features, but also in dramas sitcoms and soap operas. Aids has become an impetuous monster that has wrapped up society in its terrible claws through the fears it has promoted, the people it has affected, the true reality of the disease and the consequences it has brought upon its prey.
With all this media coverage, it seems as though aids is the number one health problem facing the world today. In opinion polls, this disease now rivals cancer and blindness as the health problem most people fear. The pervading of aids have prompted a reassessment of our beliefs and customs and have challenged our laws and social institutions (Mathews 21).
At first glance, the statistics do not seem to support this heavy emphasis. The total of all the aids cases reported in the United States has continued to rise, reaching more than 160,000 by the end of 1990, and the number of aids cases worldwide is close to a third of a million (Hull 22). These numbers may seem impressive compared to the number of people who gather to watch a World Series game or the Super Bowl and in reality they are. Yet each year three-quarters of a million Americans die of heart disease and close to a half million die of cancer, while the total of aids related deaths in the United States in 1990 was about 30,000. In 1990, aids ranked 10 among our top leading causes of death. Worldwide, aids tolls are only a fraction of the 200 to 300 million new cases and 2 million deaths from malaria each year (Silverstein 47).
Why all the attention to aids, then? It is just the latest media hype, playing on our emotions and needlessly building up our fears? There are several reasons why people have reacted so emotionally to aids.
First of all, it is a new disease. Cancer, heart disease, and malaria have been killing people ever since there have been humans on earth, but scientists did not even find out about aids since 1981. This new disease burst on the scene at a time when medical science had been making steady and encouraging progress and the life expectancy had been rising each year. It seemed that all the industrialized nations had come to realize that there were effective ways to treat or prevent all the major infectious diseases so that they were no longer anything to worry about (Landman 89). Then, suddenly, there was a new disease killing people, one that we did not know how to prevent or cure (Falling 11).
The reported total number of aids cases in the United States is increasing explosively. What is more, public health experts believe that the actual cases of aids are only a small fraction of the total problem, and that is the part that is visible. Not so obvious but just as real are the much larger numbers of people who are infected with aids but have not developed any symptoms yet. Some of them may never ever realize that they have been infected. Many, however, will be the new aids cases in the years to come and all of those infected, even if they do not have any symptoms, can spread the disease to others (Falling 5). We may be on the verge of a new plague rivaling the influenza epidemic that swept throughout the world at the end of World War 1, or the dreaded Black Plague of the Middle Ages.
A third frightening factor about aids is its deadliness. Over 60 percent of those in whom aids was diagnosed have died; the majority die within two years of diagnosis. Though it can kill quickly, this new disease can also produce great suffering. Disfiguring sores, wracking bores of pneumonia that leave the patient gasping for breath, endless series