Just*in Time: October 2014

Just*in Time
by Justin B. Terry-Smith

Photo by Don Harris  © Don Harris Photographics, LLC. All rights reserved
Photo by Don Harris © Don Harris Photographics, LLC. All rights reserved

As a father I want to have open communication with my son about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). A couple of nights ago while he was working on his homework, he saw me working on my column. He asked, “What are you up to Dad?” I replied, “I’m working on my HIV Advice Column.” To my surprise, he quickly asked, “Is it okay if I ask you a couple questions?” So I said, “Ask away!” So, Mr. Lundyn Terry-Smith, this column is dedicated to you, my son….

Dad, where did HIV come from? What was the first case of HIV?

Well, son, that can be a little complicated. There are a lot of theories out there as to where HIV came from, but I will tell you what I know. There is a theory known as the “Hunter Theory,” in which scientists have dated HIV back to the early 1900s. The Hunter Theory explains HIV via animal to man transmission. When hunters in Central Africa were hunting chimpanzees they didn’t know that the chimpanzees had something called simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV). The hunters had often cut themselves, while cutting a chimpanzee’s body. Since SIV is transmitted through blood, the hunter would often get SIV because chimpanzee’s blood would get into the hunters’ cuts. The hunter’s immune system would be able to fight off the virus, but in some cases SIV would mutate into what is now called HIV in humans. This is the theory that I believe in because it has the most scientific facts to back it up.

Here’s a brief rundown of some of the other more persistent theories floating around:

Contaminated Needle Theory: The theory is based on HIV infections from contaminated needles from human-human interaction. Basically, Lundyn, it’s almost the same at the hunter theory above—just with needles. Since needles were costly there may have been an instance where a medical person would have used one needle for two or more people. Using the needle on the HIV-positive hunter first, then using it again on others would spread the virus as well….ehhhhh… it could happen.

Conspiracy Theory: HIV was manufactured by the U.S. government to kill off gay men and African Americans….Ummm, not the best theory, but people actually believe it….

Colonialism Theory: When Africa was being colonized, a lot of the colonial governments were very harsh. Often, natives became poor because they were isolated from the rest of society and were not given resources to live in the best way possible. Sanitation was often an issue and SIV-infected chimpanzees were often used as food. Also, SIV-infected needles and prostitution were rampant as well, creating a lot of chances to become HIV infected. Not my favorite theory, either.

When HIV was first discovered in the mainstream it was thought by epidemiologists that a flight attendant named Gaëtan Dugas was the first patient to have contracted and transmitted the disease in North America. That later on was found to be false. Then, through genetic testing, it was found out that the earliest case in the Western Hemisphere was a Haitian who may have worked in Africa.

In 1969 Robert Rayford, a teenager in St. Louis, Missouri, died and doctors didn’t know why. Eighteen years later it was discovered that he had been infected with HIV. In 1968, Rayford was admitted to a hospital with a severe infection of chlamydia, for which he was treated. But then the next year his condition got worse and he passed away. Since Rayford had not traveled to the major metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles, New York and/or San Francisco or even outside the United States, scientists who studied the case in the 1980s concluded that HIV had been present in the United States before his initial infection.

Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, has the highest HIV infection rate in the world. There are many countries in Africa that lack resources to be able to stop new infections. Hopefully with new medication and scientific know how HIV infections will soon decrease significantly.

Justin B. Terry-Smith has been fighting the good fight since 1999. He’s garnered recognition and awards for his work, but he’s more concerned about looking for new ways to transform society for the better than resting on his laurels. He started up in gay rights and HIV activism in 2005, published an HIV-themed children’s book, I Have A Secret (Creative House Press) in 2011, and created his own award-winning video blog called, “Justin’s HIV Journal”: justinshivjournal.blogspot.com. Now, with this column, Justin has found a way to give voice to the issues that people write to him about. Visit his main Web site at www.justinbsmith.com. He welcomes your questions at [email protected].