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AIDS cases diagnosed at MIT

By Amy S. Gorin

Two members of the MIT community have been diagnosed as having Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), according to Medical Department Chief of Student Health Programs Dr. Mark A. Goldstein.

The diagnoses were made before the beginning of this term. According to Associate Dean for Student Affairs Robert M. Randolph, one victim is an Institute employee, and the other is a graduate student who is no longer enrolled. Neither AIDS victim is living in the dormitory system.

The patients' right to confidentiality prevented Goldstein or Randolph from disclosing any more information about them.

If an enrolled student had AIDS, he or she would be allowed to attend classes. "Institute policy is not to discriminate against anyone who is ill ..." Randolph said. The Dean's Office is "not going to ask anybody to leave the system ... [or] to not attend classes."

The MIT Medical Department uses a two step procedure to diagnose AIDS, according to Goldstein. The patient is first examined for the presence of diseases and opportunistic infections which would normally be fought off by a healthy immune system. If these infections are present, the patient's blood is tested for the presence of antibodies against HTLV-III, the virus which causes AIDS.

The AIDS virus is spread by intimate contact with infected bodily fluids, primarily blood, blood products and semen (see sidebar). Because all donated blood is now routinely screened for the AIDS antibody, the primary mode of transmission for the disease is believed to be sexual contact.

The Medical Department "pushes [the use of] condoms" in both homosexual and heterosexual intercourse in order to avoid infection, Goldstein said. A monogamous lifestyle is "probably best," he added, "but condoms at least provide a barrier" to the virus.

Male homosexuals were among those first affected by AIDS in the US, and more than half of all AIDS victims in this country are members of that group. A member of Gays at MIT (GAMIT), who did not wish to be identified, said members of that organization are "very well informed" about the modes of transmission of the disease. No member of GAMIT has contracted AIDS, he said.

Speakers from the AIDS Action Committee, a group which provides information about AIDS and support for AIDS patients, have spoken to members of GAMIT during GAMIT's regularly scheduled meetings. Copies of "Safe Sex," a pamphlet outlining the relative risks of different sexual practices, are available in the GAMIT lounge.

Any student who believes he or she has been exposed to AIDS may ask to be tested by the MIT Medical Department. The results of the test, whether positive or negative, will be entered on the student's permanent MIT medical record. The Medical Department will also provide the locations of other testing centers to people who do not wish their test results to be recorded.

Students who donate blood through the TCA blood drive will automatically have their blood tested for the AIDS antibody. The donor will be contacted by the Red Cross if the test is positive.

The Medical Department held a meeting for all health care and support staff Thursday to clarify the epidemiology of AIDS and, according to Goldstein, to "educate ourselves as to better serve the MIT community." The Medical Department established a task force in August to study the AIDS problem.

Two Medical Department staff physicians who specialize in infectious diseases have been given the duty of interviewing possible victims, who must be referred by another staff physician. Upon request, the Medical Department will send a physician to address living groups and campus organizations about the disease. Information about AIDS is also available through the Dean's Office.