If you are among the 60 percent of Americans who rely on cable news media for your facts about the HIV crisis, you likely think the biggest news coming out of 2013 was the 'cure' of the Mississippi baby born with HIV. That or that HIV-positive men who have sex with men wantonly run around exposing and infecting other men with HIV. Cause, you know, that's a thing. Or dentists' offices should be feared because of risk of infection with HIV or other viruses.
Media Matters for America's newly released report on the cable news coverage of HIV was telling from the beginning, but now the organization has released a detailed review of CNN's coverage — the cable network with the most reports on HIV in 2013. The Mississippi baby garnered four reports, while the Missouri HIV exposure case and the Oklahoma dentist case clocked in three reports each in 2013. Overall, CNN had 11 stories about HIV in 2013, while Fox News and MSNBC had four each.
So if you are getting your construction of HIV from CNN, HIV is either something plaguing American born babies or something that people are deliberating spreading.
But you see, that completely ignores the reality of HIV in America. According to the CDC, the prevalence of HIV transmission via perinatal infection (ie at birth) for American babies is an estimated 127 cases in 2011. The CDC reports that in 2011, 3,952,841 live births happened. In other words, .00003212 percent of the American babies born in 2011 were estimated to be infected with HIV.
That same year, CDC reports 30,573 adult and adolscent males were diagnosed with HIV via male-male sexual activity. The CDC also reported that in 2011, 10,242 women were diagnosed with HIV. Of that just over 10,000 women infected, 1,428 were infected via intravenous drug use, while 8,814 women were infected via heterosexual contact.
Basically, the focus on babies born with HIV creates an illusion that HIV is a heterosexual crisis in the United States — an illusion which is incredibly misleading. In 2011, women represented one third of HIV cases. Meanwhile, men who have sex with men represented the majority of new HIV infections. But hey, why talk about men who have sex with men, when you can talk about cute little babies. Because babies, they are innocent victims; gay men bring it on themselves by having sex. And which would cable television prefer to talk about — gay sex or babies? Yeah, babies.
Incidentally, two weeks after the Mississippi baby case began making headlines, French researchers announced a similar approach of that "hit soon, hit hard" treatment for HIV in early infection worked for 14 French citizens in a study. AIDSMap reported the study enrolled 10 men and four women and each was caught in very early HIV infection. As a result, all 14 patients have stopped meds, and eight of them had maintained undetectable viral loads, in the four years of the study. That's compared with the one year the Mississippi baby had been off medications at the time of the initial reports.
That study was not mentioned by CNN, at all. (Because, you know, no babies!)
Meanwhile, when discussing HIV and adults, CNN paints persons living with HIV as predators hellbent on infecting hundreds of others with their virus. There's no discussion in the stories by CNN about the role of medications and viral load play in transmission risks. There's no discussion about what kind of sexual activity the accused allegedly engaged into to expose his partners, nor was their a discussion about the per sexual contact risks of infection as established by the CDC. In other words, the CNN reports create the illusion that HIV is so infectious that the mere act of being HIV-positive and sexual immediately results in the virus bursting forth from the positive person's body and leaping across the room to the (presumably) HIV-negative sex partner. There, the virus, like the alien implant stage in the film alient, delivers the virus into the body.
Image courtesy of Media Matters for America