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AIDS: 'This program may shock you; and save your life'

In the early 1980s doctors began noticing rare cancers and infections striking otherwise healthy young gay men. Something was destroying their immune systems — something fatal and possibly contagious. At first it was called the 'gay plague.' Then others began dying: Haitians, intravenous drug users, hemophiliacs and heterosexuals. Fear, confusion and prejudice reigned as the disease eventually known as AIDS grew from a mystery to an epidemic. This topic contains discussion of a sexual nature. The medical information in the clips was believed accurate at the time of broadcast, but may have changed.

By 1987 over 43,000 people in 91 countries have AIDS, and millions more are infected with HIV. Many are heterosexual. Yet a poll this week indicates that half of all Canadian adults know little or nothing about AIDS, how HIV is contracted, or how to protect themselves. In this award-winning one-hour science program, host Jay Ingram gives the frank facts of AIDS and HIV, revealing how vulnerable we are and providing dire predictions for the future.
• In March 1987 the drug AZT (Azidothymidine), made by Glaxo Wellcome, became the first anti-HIV drug approved for use in the United States. It entered clinical trials in Canada at the same time but was not widely available, forcing some patients to seek the drug in the United States or Europe. At the time AZT, which keeps HIV from multiplying, was the first anti-AIDS drug where the benefits outweighed the side effects.

• HIV is particularly dangerous because of its "incubation" or "latency" period. It can stay in the body for years without the victim knowing he or she is infected. But their immune system produces massive numbers of "T-cells" to fight the billions of viruses being created every day. The body can't sustain such production, and after as much as 10 years or more the immune system begins to collapse and is overwhelmed by infections. Anti-HIV drugs can delay this for many years.

• Africa has been devastated by HIV and AIDS like nowhere else. The United Nations now estimates at least 24.5 million Africans are infected. In some countries, particularly in Southern Africa, between 20 and 30 per cent of adults aged 15-49 are infected with HIV.
• The AIDS epidemic spread around the world rapidly because of factors like international travel, the blood industry (transfusions, blood factor, etc.) and intravenous drug use.

• International travel was blamed for the spread of AIDS via the story of "Patient Zero." This was the name applied to a promiscuous Canadian flight attendant named Gaetan Dugas. He was one of the first known carriers of HIV. The theory was that he contracted AIDS in Africa and spread it to hundreds of partners across North America. Today the "Patient Zero" theory has been discredited.

Reading from: "Panos dossier, AIDS and the 3rd World," published in association with the Norwegian Red Cross, March 1987.
Medium: Radio
Program: Quirks & Quarks
Broadcast Date: April 4, 1987
Guest(s): Dr. Marcus Conant, Dr. Margaret Fischl, Dr. Richard Gordon, Dr. Harold Jaffe, Warren Johnson, Dr. Mark Kaplan, Dr. Gerald Minuk, Dr. Tom Peterman, Dr. Suzanne Sprecher, Dr. Wolfgang Stille
Host: Jay Ingram

Last updated: October 9, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

All Clips from this Topic

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