Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wrong, wrong, a thousand times wrong

First it was Todd Akin, who desperately needs some fundamental lessons in biology.

Now it's Senator Stacey Campfield, another republican, who decided to leave us with this nugget of wisdom:

“Most people realize that AIDS came from the homosexual community,” he told Michelangelo Signorile, who hosts a radio program on SiriusXM OutQ. “It was one guy screwing a monkey, if I recall correctly, and then having sex with men. It was an airline pilot, if I recall.”
“My understanding is that it is virtually — not completely, but virtually — impossible to contract AIDS through heterosexual sex.” 
Oh my, where to begin?

Let's start with where he's correct.  There's not a lot of correctness, so it shouldn't take time.  To say that AIDS, or more specifically the virus HIV which causes AIDS, comes from the homosexual community is almost accurate.  The first officially documented case of AIDS in the united states (or at least the most recognized) came in the early 80s, when five homosexual men were treated for pneumonia caused  by Pneumocystis carinii, an opportunistic pathogen (which is to say it only causes disease in certain circumstances, such as if the host were immunocompromised).  Most of the time, HIV was identified in homosexuals and drug users, leading many to initially believe that it was a disease that only affected gays.  That assumption lasted all of two years in the scientific community, when it became obvious that AIDS was not exclusive to homosexuals.

That's not to say this was the first case of HIV in the United States, but it's the first series of cases directly attributed to the virus.  There are theories about the original "patient zero" to bring HIV from Africa to the united states, but nothing conclusive.  The best hypothesis I've seen is that there were a series of well traveled gay men who happened to bring the disease back with them, which explains why it hit the gay community the hardest at first.  So yes, Senator Campfield, it seems at least somewhat reasonable to believe that AIDS originally came to the US from the homosexual community, but the assumption is flawed, as it implies that homosexuals are to blame for the disease.  As many of your ilk are prone, you are blaming the victims.  Strike One.

And there's the entirety of his factual understandings.  Oh, wait, there's one small additional tidbit.  The airline pilot in question refers to Gaetan Dugas, a man formerly considered "patient zero" to the US.  He probably wasn't, and again, there's absolutely no evidence that he had sex with a monkey.

The truth is that we don't have a definitive theory on how HIV originated.  We know fairly well that HIV originated from a strain of SIV (Simian Immunodeficiency Virus), but there are a lot of strands of SIV, each infecting a different primate.  Thanks to a lot of genomic data and analysis, researchers have been able to identify SIVcpz, the strain that specifically infects Pan troglodytes (The chimpanzee), as the culprit.  Of SIVcpz, the closest related viruses are found in Cameroon.  The specific jungle region identified is fairly far from the suspected origin of HIV-1, but there's a river that flows from the region of the SIV chimps to where HIV originated in Kinshasa.  While we don't have solid data on this, there's a lot of strong evidence to suggest that this was the origin of HIV, and it probably came from contact with infected chimp blood (possibly in feces or elsewhere in the river).

Either way, I doubt we'll know for certain exactly where it originated, but it's highly unlikely that it started with some man going all the way into the deep wilderness to have sex with a chimpanzee.  Bestiality may happen, but the likelihood here seems so insignificant as to be considered implausible if not impossible.  So there's strike two.

We know a lot about how HIV spreads.  While it is true that evidence suggests the person doing the penetrating has a lower chance of getting infected than the person being penetrated, infection can and does still occur in significant numbers for either party involved.  One of the biggest concerns in treating HIV in Africa is the threat of a child born to an infected mother.  Another is the common belief that Sex with a virgin will cure AIDS, which potentially has led to a significant increase in women infected with HIV by men.  It is not just stupid, but dangerously foolish to think that heterosexual sex cannot transmit the virus.  Strike Three.  You're out.  Or at least I seriously hope you will be.  Comments like this aren't just wrong.  They breed fear and distrust of others (homosexuals in this case) and promote unsafe behavior (not using protection for sex).  It's worse than the AIDS deniers, especially because this comes from a semi-powerful political voice.


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