"Most Americans think they are more likely to be shot by a total stranger or go completely deaf rather than be infected with HIV," observes Dr. Mithilde Krim, AmFAR's founder and chair. Fear of AIDS ranked last among 11 different accidents and illnesses included in the survey.
On the one hand, that's wonderful because it shows that folks now have a much more realistic perception of how HIV is passed. Also, with all the optimism connected to the new therapies and the reduced death rate, HIV infection seems less frightening.
There's a danger lurking there, however, because even people who engage in risk behaviors have lost their fear of this disease. Young people especially are increasingly not taking HIV into account when they make their sexual decisions. Respondents aged 18 to 24 also ranked HIV/AIDS last in the Harris poll, even though sexual activity among youth is higher now than it was when the AIDS epidemic began and condom use is still the exception, not the norm. The result: In the United States, half of all new HIV infections occur in people under the age of 24.
Realistic, critical thinking is still demanded. It isn't necessary to be irrationally afraid, but cavalier complacency can still be fatal.
--Sandy Bartlett, Community Information/Education Coordinator
AIDS Services of Austin
ASA Info Line: 458-AIDS E-mail: ASA@fc.net