New York Times Article Draws Parallels Between AIDS, Mad Cow Disease
"There may be some lessons for politicians and public health officials in considering how" the HIV/AIDS and mad cow disease epidemics are alike, Donald McNeil writes in the New York Times. McNeil draws a number of parallels between the two diseases, including:
- Both epidemics "had gone global before anyone realized it."
- The "incubation period" for both diseases is "very long."
- Both "caused panics," mostly because neither disease is well understood, according to Dr. Max Essex, chair of immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard School of Public Health. Such panic can "foster the need to blame someone," McNeil writes, citing the stigma associated with Haitians early in the AIDS epidemic, as the disease was "more common" among this population; and how other European countries have pinned the blame on England for the spread of mad cow disease. Panic may also lead countries to "overstate" the fear, the article states. McNeil cites an unnamed epidemiologist who said it was "legitimate" to overstate the fear associated with HIV/AIDS "because it kept kids from having lots of sex."
- Catching either disease "usually involves a certain amount of fun," with prevention schemes requiring behavioral changes -- avoiding red meat consumption in the case of mad cow or unprotected sex in the case of HIV -- that can be "impossible." Thus, "high risk groups persist, sometimes secretly, that public health officials must find." These challenges "ope[n] the door to politics, which rarely interferes with containment schemes for flu or Ebola." Modern-day epidemics are "likely to include fears for the blood supply, something politicians find easy to stir up" (McNeil, New York Times, 2/4).