Oral Sex and Public Health Fear-Mongering
Experts, Schmexperts

We're all Drinking Wawa Beer Already

AIDS might 'kill more Australians than World War II'. Whew, glad the Aussies dodged that bullet.

Epidemiology_rulez_ok commented, to the last post:

Drink Wawa-beer! The risk of becoming infected with life threatening bacteria is only 0.4% each time you drink Wawa-beer! Don't think about what happens if you drink Wawa-beer once a week, year after year!

Don't forget that the .04% risk figure is based on the number of sex acts with an HIV-positive person. Assuming you sleep with 10 different people a year, how likely is it that any of them is (1) going to be HIV positive; and (2) also be in a phase of the infection in which they are shedding enough viruses to infect others?

If you're straight, don't associate with IV drug users, and don't live in sub-Saharan Africa, the chances of you sleeping with someone who is HIV positive is tiny -- and it's only then, when you sleep with that HIV-positive person, that you'll encounter the 1 in 2500 chance of infection. So the real chance, for people outside the high-risk categories, is probably not even 1 in 2500, but something like one in a couple of million. Which explains why verifiable, recorded instances of HIV transmission resulting from casual sexual encounters among people outside the risk categories are almost unknown.

Obviously, ERO is snarking a bit, but it got me thinking: isn't the attitude he or she mocks the basic logic we all use every day? Take, for example, unpasteurized cheese. I eat it, as well as millions of Europeans, every day, even though there's a small chance it will make us seriously ill. In fact, the United States bans or regulates the import 'dangerous' European cheese made from raw milk, and US government organs officially warn people of the dangers of raw milk and cheese. Yet probably half the cheeses in my ordinary grocery store are labeled rohmilchkaese (cheese from raw milk). Or how about the people I see every day riding their bicycles around without helmets, as I do myself? We are knowingly encountering a tiny chance of death that we could eliminate completely by wearing a helmet, but we don't.

My point is, as a matter of policy, it was foolish and irresponsible to try to frighten people outside the main risk groups. It spread irrational fear far out of proportion to any real public-health benefit. Also, it reduced the credibility of public-health figures. They cried wolf once (see the ad above), so who's to say they won't do so the next time some alleged threat looms on the horizon? It's also worth noting that the people responsible for the notorious 'Grim Reaper' ad later acknowledged it was a mistake, since it led to a backlash by straight Australians against gay men. Some people took the Grim Reaper to be a dramatization of the supposed danger of a virus localized in the gay community now threatening heterosexuals -- even small children.