Educating people about AIDS is still the best available way to curb the dreaded disease, Salt Lake City/County Health Department Director Harry Gibbons told a standing-room-only audience of Utah secondary teachers Monday.

"Knowledge is the most critical weapon in fighting the war against AIDS," said Gibbons. "Prevention is the only way to cure the disease."Teachers across the state are preparing to implement curricula developed by the state Office of Education to incorporate AIDS education into existing health studies as school opens late this month.

Two curricula were prepared - one for regular classroom use and a second for high-risk students or those whose parents approve of more explicit instruction. The curricula were approved by the state Board of Education this summer.

Dr. James R. Moss, Utah superintendent of public instruction, introduced Gibbons. He warned the teachers that AIDS is not a myth and not a media event; it is a modern reality that affects everyone. The disease can strike any family and any age group. Prevention is the only hope of stemming the epidemic.

Schools must make a more intense effort, working with health officials, churches, parents, the media and all other social organizations to inform people about the disease and how to prevent it.

The effort will require a professional approach, Moss said. Those who instruct school AIDS courses should themselves be well informed and prepared to pass on information to parents and students.

Gibbons said educators daily face an epidemic far greater than AIDS - peer pressure. Peer pressure contributes to the spread of the dreaded disease. "Kids often give in because they don't have a reason not to," he said.

"The kids we work with have been inflicted with an attitude of immortality - `it won't happen to me.' " said Gibbons.

While AIDS is closely associated with homosexuals and IV drug abusers, there are confirmed cases of AIDS transmitted through heterosexual relationships, he warned. Each sexual contact exposes the partners to all of the previous sexual contacts each has had, he said.

Misunderstanding about how AIDS is spread is a serious concern, Gibbons said. Fears that it may be contracted from such items as toilet seats or door knobs are "garbage," he said. Mosquitoes also have been virtually ruled out as a mode of transmission. Direct blood contact is, however, a hazard and dealing with blood in any context should be done with caution by people wearing surgical gloves, he said.

Young people known to be HIV-positive should not be allowed to participate in school sports and other activities that could result in injuries causing bleeding, Gibbons suggested.

Emergency-response people dealing with injured patients in accidents should use their own judgment in deciding if contact with blood could pose a threat, Gibbons said. Whether to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation - in which a saliva exchange is unavoidable - should also be the decision of the emergency personnel.

Gibbons said strong moral values should underlie instruction in AIDS prevention.

Gibbons said educators need to spend more time teaching students values and the importance of character building and responsibility. "We have to teach our children how to live, rather than how to make a living."