As former director of the Emotional Support Program of the Los Angeles Shanti Foundation and a public lecturer on the subject of dating in the age of AIDS, I was appalled and dismayed at the irresponsible suggestions made by actor Charlton Heston in his Counterpunch, "How to Revamp 'Studs' in the Age of AIDS" (Calendar, Nov. 18).
Heston's proposal to revamp the TV show "Studs" by providing the participants with "a free AIDS test" and rejecting those who are "fully infected" is another example of how dangerously misinformed and ignorant our population still remains regarding HIV infection.
If Heston had done any amount of research before writing his letter, he would have learned that there is no such thing as an "AIDS test." There is an HIV test that probes for the presence of antibodies to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). These antibodies sometimes do not appear in blood work until six months after the person has become infected.
What this means is that nobody who has had unprotected sex in the last six months, whether they have had an HIV test or not, can be guaranteed to be HIV-free. Therefore, Heston's statement that "those shown to be HIV- and AIDS-free could then take part in the program with no worry or infection resulting therefrom" is preposterous.
The first lesson we should all learn about preventing HIV infection is that nobody, male or female, who goes around saying he or she is a "risk-free partner" should be taken seriously, much less trusted.
With the introduction of the HIV test in the mid-'80s, a number of unscrupulous companies that provided HIV testing and gave customers an "AIDS-free" ID card if they tested negative came into existence. For a short period, there was much outrage in the AIDS community about the legitimacy of these companies. They disappeared when it became obvious that getting such cards meant nothing.
Heston's reference to "fully infected" seems to imply that there are people who are only partially or mildly infected. For the record, there is no such thing. One is either infected by the virus or not. Being HIV-positive without symptoms or having progressed to full-blown AIDS does not make an individual more or less infectious.
Some researchers believe that persons at an early stage of HIV infection are potentially more infectious than those at an advanced stage because the virus replicates itself more actively immediately following infection. Incidentally, it is individuals at the early stage who show fewer signs of the infection than those who are sick.
Heston's letter suggests that HIV testing and disclosure of results as a condition to participate in potentially risky activities such as being a "Studs" contestant would be a step in the right direction regarding AIDS prevention. Well, besides dangerously ignoring the six-month window, this ridiculous idea suggests notions of forced testing and discrimination of HIV-positive individuals, as if that would effectively stop the spread of AIDS.
Throwing around misinformation and inaccurate terminology the way Heston did is a serious act. Nobody, especially celebrities, should presume to speak publicity about something as grave as HIV without first getting some basic facts. And everyone should start doing something about AIDS by protecting themselves and their partners, not by proposing methods discarded as ineffective years ago.
Because of his visibility, Heston's presumptuousness regarding the subject should not be taken lightly. We should not lose sight of the fact that ultimately there would be victims to his segregationist suggestions: those who are infected and already dealing with the devastating physical, emotional and social effects of this terrible illness.