But…there is one health threat that suffers from the failure of the CDC to be truthful with the American people. We are suffering. And the CDC is worse than silent…the CDC ignores and silences expert voices and research that could protect us.
It is hard to imagine the CDC actually putting the health of people at risk. For years, we watched the CDC run from one threat to the next: drugs, tobacco, polio, small pox. We learned to trust the CDC. That was before the sexual revolution and…
…the discovery of AIDS. The AIDS epidemic officially began on June 5, 1981, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reportnewsletter reported unusual clusters of Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) in five homosexual men in Los Angeles. Over the next 18 months, more PCP clusters were discovered among otherwise healthy men in cities throughout the country.
The CDC was stopped dead in its tracks. It scrambled to identify the HIV/AIDS connection and its methods of transmission and treatment, as people worried about “catching” the HIV virus. Every human activity was originally suspect: drinking cups, sharing straws, kissing, open cuts, mosquito bites, injections…and of course…sexual activity. Without the Internet, information followed slowly on the trail blazed by gossip and greased by fear.
Perhaps no one more clearly tells the story of AIDS in the early days than Ryan White, an engaging, fun-loving young teen who eventually died of AIDS. In December, 1984, over four years after the first American incidence of AIDS came to light, Ryan White was diagnosed with AIDS. Up to this point, the disease had largely been associated with the male gay community. White suffered from hemophilia, and was infected with HIV from a contaminated blood transfusion.
White became an instant poster child for AIDS. Clearly, he was an innocent victim. Nevertheless, he was expelled from his middle school, triggering a lengthy court battle and thrusting him into the international spotlight. Through the courage of White and his family, America and the world began to sift through all of the fears about AIDS and separate fact from fiction.
By now, the CDC had lost its grip on the messaging for AIDS. Running from one public relations crisis to the next, the CDC forgot its ultimate foundational role as the defender of public health. Instead of demanding that public bath houses, a known haven for promiscuous gay sex, the CDC decided to make certain they focused on reassuring the American people that they were not in danger of infection. The key to health, according to the CDC, was protection. Protect Yourself! Wrestling coaches were told to stop the match if a student got cut. They were given medical latex gloves to wipe blood off the wrestling mat. Meanwhile, parents were reassured…yes…the family could safely share eating utensils.
Everything was spelled out by the CDC: clean needles for drug users, latex gloves for classroom teachers, face masks for dentists. Quit worrying about the mosquitoes. Every area of life was managed for protecting the public from HIV…every area but one. What is missing from this discussion?
One can almost feel sorry for the CDC. The sexual revolution had been in full swing for more than twenty years, reinforced with birth control, drugs and alcohol. Sex was everywhere…because it was FREE.
Americans had grown used to their FREE SEX. The CDC was caught in a social trap. AIDS was clearly driven by sexual activity. They could tell Americans to give up their free “right” to have sex with whomever and whenever. Or they could…
Well, … options were slim. One thing was certain. We had an AIDS epidemic on our hands. The CDC squinted its eyes and surveyed the American scene. People expected them to do one thing…above all…Stop Aids. How could the CDC stop AIDS without having to stop sex?
NEXT WEEK…CDC: DERELICTION of DUTY, Pt. 2