This story originally appeared in the December 9, 1986 issue of the Boston Phoenix.
AIDS is not a disease of homosexuals or intravenous drug users alone: it threatens millions of sexually active Americans regardless of age, gender, race or place of residence.--Newsweek, November 24, 1986
I really haven’t accepted the fact that it’s something that can actually happen.--Boston Globe, November 12, 1986, quoting a 20-year-old
The news about AIDS just keeps getting worse. Just look at the latest newspapers or peruse the weekly news magazines and you’ll be struck by the developing consensus of dire predictions and mushrooming fears about the future of AIDS in America. Ever since official AIDS projections for the next five years were released, in June, journalists and scientists have been busy creating a ghastly vision of the future.
Here is a commonly offered scenario: the year is 1991. Four million Americans are infected with the fatal AIDS virus, and as many as half of them will eventually develop the incurable disease. In this year alone, 54,000 citizens – homosexuals and heterosexuals, drug users and teetotalers – will perish from AIDS as it becomes one of the nation’s leading killers, second only to heart disease. The high cost of treating AIDS sufferers is crippling the Medicare system, several major insurance companies have already been bankrupted, and the economy has plunged into deep recession. Every man, woman, and child in the country now undergoes regular AIDS testing and carries the results around on identification cards. Sex outside marriage is illegal. It is a felony for an infected person to have sex with a noninfected person. All pregnant women must submit to an AIDS test – if the results are positive, abortion is mandatory.
This futuristic nightmare that sounds like a combination of 1984 and The Andromeda Strain is now just a gruesome fiction. But there is a growing sense that this scenario, sketched out in the August 10 issue of the Los Angeles Times Magazine by Neil R. Schram, MD, chairman of the Los Angeles City/County AIDS Task Force, may be tomorrow’s reality. Newsweek’s November 24 cover story begins in strikingly similar fashion, with a future president declaring a national state of emergency to combat the virulent epidemic that by that time –1991—has taken nearly 200,000 lives and shows no signs of slowing its deadly advance.
Could this possibly come to pass? An increasing number of experts, eyeing a growing body of evidence, believe it could happen, particularly since so many people now potentially at risk are failing to heed the gathering storm clouds and are averting their gaze from a very disturbing set of facts, statistics and projections.