AIDS fear afflicts thousands across China

14:27, October 28, 2009      

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By Sept. 30, 2008, China had 700,000 HIV carriers, of which 440,000 were unaware that they had been infected.

Recently, two articles with the same topic were hotly discussed on the Internet at the same time.

The topic circled a group of people who claimed themselves have contracted an “unknown HIV-like virus” that modern medical tests could not detect.

These people share their suffering, sought comfort, and leant on one another for support at the chat rooms on the Internet.

Group members of the chat rooms tend to have certain things in common: They develop AIDS-like symptoms after being involved in activities that put them at risk of potential exposure. None tests HIV positive, yet they feel anxious and fearful. They come to believe they are infected with a mysterious unknown virus and that the virus can spread through contact in everyday life, such as through sweat and saliva.

AIDS service centers in major cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Wuhan received thousands of such “patients” each year. The number keeps increasing, said Li Taisheng, an AIDS expert in Beijing and chief of the AIDS consultancy committee under the Ministry of Health.

Case one:

FEARS that he might have contracted HIV/AIDS have enveloped Hong Sheng’s life since one day last September, after he visited a prostitute while on a business trip to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province.

The nightmare began that very night when he found a blister in his mouth while brushing his teeth. Although it was gone on the second day, worries persisted. Twenty-one days later, noticeable changes in his health struck terror into his heart — he suffered night sweats, muscle aches, a rash on his forehead and lasting fatigue. He logged onto the Internet in a frantic search for information on AIDS and made the self-diagnosis that he had contracted the deadly and incurable disease.

He went to different hospitals and took seven HIV tests in the following three months, all of which told him he was virus-free.

Unconvinced, he consulted doctors about his persisting symptoms and was told they were a result of AIDS phobia.

“They [Hong’s doctors] said I was mentally ill and needed psychological treatment,” Hong said. “They had no idea what I was suffering.”

After trying various treatments, all unsuccessful, Hong came to the conclusion that he had contracted an “unknown HIV-like virus” that modern medical tests could not detect.

To his horror, Hong found the disease was contagious — his wife and only daughter developed similar symptoms. Both tested HIV negative, too. Nevertheless, the specter of the dread disease continued to take control of his life.

“I feel like the walking dead,” Hong said.
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