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Calls Flood AIDS Office in Wake of Hudson Case

August 27, 1985|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer

In the gay community it's being referred to as "pre-Rock" and "post-Rock."

Since the widely publicized announcement a month ago that actor Rock Hudson has AIDS-- acquired immune deficiency syndrome--the number of phone calls to Jeanette Shelly's Santa Ana office have tripled.

"The number of phone calls has been phenomenal," said Shelly, AIDS Project coordinator-investigator for the Orange County Health Care Agency.

"Ever since Rock Hudson made his announcement, there has been an increase in public awareness. It was there before, but it was submerged: People didn't want to accept the fact that the problem was out there."

Shelly said that the Health Care Agency's Special Disease Clinic, the nonprofit AIDS Response Program in Garden Grove and personal physicians also have been "bombarded" with phone calls.

"Yesterday alone," she said, "we had 10 calls from the public on the HTLV-3 antibody test, which detects antibodies to the AIDS virus. They want information: 'What is it (the test) and where do I get it?' "

Despite the increased public awareness about AIDS, Shelly said that many of the calls to her office reflect both an uninformed and misinformed public. And because the callers are either uninformed or misinformed, she said, "they're panicked.

"I've received several calls from people wanting to know if it is safe to go into a public swimming pool. Well, that's one of the safest (places) you could be because it has chlorine in it and bleach is felt to be one of the best disinfectants for killing the AIDS virus."

She has also received calls from people asking, "Can I send my kids to school this year?" and "Can I go to this health club; they have a lot of gays there."

She has even received calls from people who say they want to visit San Francisco or Laguna Beach and want to know if they can get the disease if a person with AIDS breathes on them.

"The most important thing to get across," Shelly said, "is that this is not a casually contagious disease, and it requires intimate contact to be spread. And it is not spreading rapidly into the general population."

Flurry of Inquiries

To keep pace with the flurry of calls, Susan Holley, Shelly's secretary, has had additional lines added to her phone.

Typical of some of the calls Holley has fielded is the one from a young woman in her early 20s who, Holley said, "was scared to death she was going to get AIDS because she had slept with a guy twice about a month ago."

The woman had since found out the man is bisexual and that he had stopped using intravenous drugs only three months ago. (Intravenous drug users, Shelly noted, are the second highest group of people considered to be at risk for getting AIDS. Gay or bisexual males are the highest at-risk group.)

"People," Shelly observed, "are starting to look at their life styles."

Since 1981, 12,599 cases of AIDS have been diagnosed in the United States and 6,338 people have died from it, according to the latest figures supplied by the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

In addition, an estimated 500,000 to 1 million people nationwide have been exposed to the AIDS virus. All of those exposed do not necessarily die of AIDS, but they do have an increased risk of developing it. The incubation period ranges from about six months to five years. A CDC spokesman noted that out of the 500,000 to 1 million people who have been exposed to AIDS, "we believe only 5 to 20% will go on to develop AIDS."

78 Fatalities

As of late last week, 139 cases of AIDS had been diagnosed in Orange County, according to Shelly; of those, 78 have died. Orange County also has 80 cases of AIDS Related Complex (ARC), a combination of "clinical findings" and laboratory abnormalities that persist for at least three months and for which there is no other explanation. There also are 140 cases with AIDS Related Findings (ARF), which include yeast infections of the mouth, swollen lymph nodes in several parts of the body or a positive HTLV-3 blood test.

"Since January, Orange County has been averaging eight or nine new AIDS cases a month," said Shelly, former head nurse at the internal medicine clinic at UCI Medical Center, who assumed the newly created position of AIDS Project coordinator-investigator in February, 1984.

Shelly said her federally funded position was created in order to develop "active surveillance" (finding and reporting) of the growing number of cases of AIDS and ARC in Orange County. Orange County ranks third--behind San Francisco and Los Angeles--in numbers of AIDS cases in California.

In addition to surveillance, Shelly's job entails interviewing persons with AIDS and reporting her findings to the state Health Services Department and the CDC.

She also provides counseling to persons with AIDS and conducts educational lectures, primarily to health care workers and paraprofessionals, on topics such as AIDS and AIDS Related Complex, the epidemiology of the disease, infection-control precautions, blood testing and psychosocial issues.

Call From a Doctor

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