Byrne, Joseph. Daily Life during the Black Death. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2006. Wear, Andrew. “Fear and Anxiety and the Plague in Early Modern England,” in Religion, Health and Suffering, edited by J. R. Hinnells and Roy Porter (Oxford, UK: Taylor and Francis, 1999), 339–362. AIDS and Plague The Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) first appeared in the medical literature in 1981. Early cases were reported in south central Africa, Haiti, and with a very active homosexual flight attendant. Rela- tion of the disease with two—from a typical American’s point of view—very marginal regions and a nonmainstream man who spread the disease through homosexual activ- ity made this disease of but passing interest. Gay activists and those who realized how devastating the disease was becoming for Africans countered this lack of concern by pointing to contaminations of blood supplies and to the argument that anyone might con- tract the disease. As cases multiplied, activists compared the disease to the Black Death. Those supporting the comparison point to the utter novelty of the two in their day and of the inability of the day’s medical profes- sion to cure the disease (at least in the short run). Typically, the huge death tolls are mentioned, as is the (dubious) idea that any- one might contract the disease. Similar, too, were religious and moralistic responses to the diseases. God caused the Black Death to punish the sinful world, and throughout the Second Pandemic, moralists and Church leaders stressed penitence and amendment of life. Since AIDS in America has been located largely among active homosexuals, prostitutes, and illegal drug users, moralists and Church leaders have branded these “sinners” to be the objects of God’s wrath for their immoral lifestyles. Related has been the issue of social class. From the later 16th century in Europe, social critics came to view plague as a matter of squalor, overcrowding, filth, poverty, laziness, immorality, and other attributes of the lowest urban class. The high incidence of AIDS among prostitutes, needle-sharing addicts, and other street people has created a similar sense of stigma. One might also compare some responses to public health responses: those who could regularly escaped quarantine and isolation, and crowds sometimes rioted against harsh public mea- sures against plague. Gay activists fought against the closing of homosexual bathhouses in New York and San Francisco in the public’s attempt to lessen AIDS incidence. Major differences are important, however. Unlike the case with plague up to 1900, despite initial ignorance, modern medical sci- ence has come to understand and make huge leaps in treating HIV/AIDS. This is true in both medical science and public health. For a quarter century, apart from a relative few ran- domly stricken by tainted blood (transfusion recipients) or contact with tainted blood or other contaminated bodily fluids (physicians, EMTs), the groups whose behaviors put them at risk have known who they were and how to reduce their risk. With plague, everyone was a potential victim and for no reason they could fully understand. Authorities believed their actions could affect or stop outbreaks, but not understanding the rat–flea–bacterium chain, they were shooting in the dark. An interesting sidebar is the 1997 an- nouncement of a causal link between one’s ancestors’ exposure to plague and subsequent generations’ reduced susceptibility to con- tracting AIDS. Briefly, a mutation in the white blood cells’ CCR5-delta 32 gene can make it 2 AIDS and Plague
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