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The Changing Face of AIDS

June 16, 1995|BETTIJANE LEVINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

So you think you know who's at risk to get AIDS--and it isn't you. You're not gay, never injected drugs, never had a blood transfusion. You're careful who you date, and you never have sex without a condom.

Perhaps you should think again.

The statistics, plus the stories on these pages, show that the profile of who gets HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, has changed dramatically:

* AIDS is now the leading cause of death among people 25 to 44 in the United States, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

* The largest increase in AIDS cases in 1993 was among teen-agers and young adults, most of that from heterosexual transmission.

* Between 1992 and 1993, the most recent year for which CDC figures are available, the number of heterosexually transmitted cases jumped by 130%.

Who has the virus? There's no way to know. Many who learn they are HIV-positive do not tell anyone. More significant: Most heterosexuals who have the virus probably do not know they are infected. They feel healthy, and when they suffer any of the small illnesses that occasionally afflict everyone, neither they nor their doctor thinks it could be the onset of something more serious.

The good news: Just as easily as the virus is being spread, it can be stopped. Your best defense is knowledge. The CDC's 24-hour AIDS hot line, (800) 342-AIDS, answers about 3,500 calls a day, all anonymous and confidential.

Those courageous enough to tell their stories here hope you'll learn more about what "safe sex" really means. They wish they had.

Use a condom--every time, even for oral sex. Use one even when you're with someone you know and trust (unless you've both tested HIV-negative, or you've both been monogamous for years). And use one before you come in contact with bodily fluids of any sort.

Obey those simple rules, the experts say, and you will avoid 98% of the risk.

*

More stories and information on AIDS and safe sex, E8

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