Calls about transfusions fill AIDS hot lines

Published April 10, 1992|Updated Oct. 11, 2005

A day after Arthur Ashe announced he got AIDS from a blood transfusion, blood banks, health departments and hot lines were fielding calls from worried transfusion recipients. But officials say the blood supply has become markedly safer against AIDS since March 1985, when screening for the virus began.

The National AIDS Hotline received 117,458 calls after Ashe's announcement Wednesday, compared with about 55,000 calls the day before, said Margaret Webb, senior public relations officer with the American Social Health Association, the company that operates the line.

She said it was the hot line's third-busiest day ever, behind only March 30, the day after ABC televised a movie about a young woman who contracted AIDS from a one-night stand, and Nov. 8, the day after basketball star Magic Johnson said he was infected with the AIDS virus.

"We've gotten many calls since noon yesterday expressing concern. What they really all want to know is what date the testing began," said Andrea Smith, a spokeswoman for the New York Blood Center, which began screening blood in April 1985.

Public health departments in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties also registered an increase in phone calls Thursday from people wanting information on HIV-testing. Many set up appointments to be tested.

"The phone has jumped off the hook this morning," said Earnest Rembert, a public health nurse at the Pinellas County health department unit at 500 Seventh Ave. S in St. Petersburg. Rembert said one woman who called had received a blood transfusion several years ago and was concerned about a lingering cold she suspected might be HIV-related.

Ashe, a tennis star of the '60s and '70s, said he believed he had been infected by blood transfused after heart-bypass surgery in 1983. The date is significant, blood bank officials stress, because that was before blood banks began screening blood for the AIDS virus in March 1985.

Of millions of people transfused since then, only 20 have gotten AIDS from screened blood, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.


AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is a contagious disease that destroys the body's immune system. It is incurable and usually fatal. Death comes from infections or cancers that the body cannot fight.

AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, and is spread through sexual contact, needles or syringes shared by drug abusers, transfusion of infected blood or blood products, or from an infected birthing mother to her baby.

AIDS is not spread by casual contact such as kissing or shaking hands.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that about 1-million Americans are infected with the HIV virus. The World Health Organization estimates that as many as 12-million people worldwide are HIV infected.

As of February 1992, there were 213,641 cases of AIDS in the United States _ 210,043 adults and 3,898 children, according to the CDC. Of the adults, 187,987 male and 22,056 female, those affected included 122,405 homosexual and bisexual males, and 47,309 intravenous drug users. Transfusions caused 4,476 cases, the CDC says. There have been 138,395 deaths from the disease.

There have been 484,148 cases of AIDS reported from 164 countries, according to the World Health Organization.

Chief victims of AIDS in the United States have been homosexual men and intravenous drug abusers. Health officials estimate that heterosexual contact is responsible for 3 percent of male cases and 34 percent of female cases. Cases from heterosexual contact are showing the greatest rate of increase.

AIDS is now the second leading killer of men in the United States and the fifth leading killer of women age 25 to 44.

Screening is conducted by testing blood for the presence of antibodies to the AIDS virus. The test tells only if a person has been exposed to the virus. A person with a positive test has a 20 percent to 30 percent chance of developing AIDS over five years, according to the CDC.

Numerous medicines for AIDS are being studied. Some combat the virus directly. Others are aimed at infections and malignancies that occur with AIDS, and still others strengthen the immune system. Two drugs that attack HIV have been approved: AZT and ddI. Studies show AZT slows the progression of AIDS but does not cure it. More than 80 drugs and possible vaccines for AIDS are under development.

Source: Associated Press, World Health Organization, Dept. of Health and Human Services.

_ Information from Reuters and staff writer Anne V. Hull was used in this report.