Many Utah County residents may be afraid of openly discussing the AIDS virus, but the disease can no longer be ignored because nearly 200 Utahns are infected, says Utah Valley Community College's vice president for student services.
Wayne Kearney, who has lectured extensively and written several articles about AIDS, was scheduled to discuss the disease this fall during a series of lectures at UVCC. The series was canceled because no one registered. Two people, however, showed up for the first lecture and three others called to inquire about the series.The objective of the series was to educate county residents about AIDS by providing current information in a responsible way. The lectures would have covered AIDS in the workplace and treated such issues as testing, legal and ethical implications and the emotional aspects of the disease.
Kearney attributes cancellation of the lecture series to fear of AIDS and fear of what others might think about those attending the lectures.
"Without exception, in one way or another, people were afraid how their attendance would appear to others in the community," said Kearney, who was chairman of a college task force developing UVCC's AIDS policy and guidelines.
Those who inquired about the lectures, he said, were afraid they might be branded AIDS carriers, promiscuous, homosexuals or intravenous drug users.
"I couldn't believe it. There's a lot of fear," Kearney said. "If you get AIDS, you will die. That scares the hell out of people."
But if county residents would learn about the disease rather than hide from it, their fears would be eased and they could avoid knee-jerk reactions when confronted with an AIDS carrier. People should be fearful of ignorance about the disease, not casual relationships or contact with AIDS carriers, Kearney said.
"It isn't a disease you need to run from because you don't need to get it," he said.
Prevention, Kearney added, requires that people know and avoid what constitutes high-risk behavior. AIDS is spread through sexual contact, shared needles or direct infusion of infected blood or blood products.
"I'm sure we have AIDS patients here (at UVCC) as I'm sure every institute in the state has," he said. Kearney said he worries less about the fact that someone has AIDS than about infected students and employees who don't acknowledge that fact to a counselor or supervisor.
"If we know someone has AIDS, we will sit down with them and counsel with them," he said. And measures will be taken to encourage those with the virus to avoid industrial shop classes, where exposure to dust and dirt could aggravate their condition.
By the end of August, 140 Utahns had been diagnosed as having AIDS. Of those 140, 88 have died. The state has at least one documented case of AIDS spread through heterosexual contact, Kearney said, but the actual number of those with AIDS probably is much higher.
Though the lecture series has been canceled, Kearney said he will continue offering lectures and workshops throughout the state to organizations requesting information about the disease and how to respond to those who have it.