Welcome to the World of AIDS

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Viral scare story making the rounds says random victims in at least two different countries were unknowingly injected with the AIDS virus in crowded movie theaters and night clubs.

Originally published May 21, 1998

Nothing is safe any more!

Have a few drinks at a bar, you wake up missing a kidney. Flash your headlights at a passing car, gang members open fire on you in a drive-by initiation rite.

Now, it appears, you can't even go to the movies without putting your life at risk — this according to the latest scare story making the email rounds.

Here's an example. Read on...

WARNING - MUST READ

Be careful the next time you go to a cinema. These people could be anywhere!! An experience of a friend of my brother's wife left me speechless. Please do send this out to everyone you know. This incident occurred in Bombay's Metro cinema (Among the best in town). They were a group of 6-7 College girls & they went to the theater to see a movie. During the show one of the girls felt a slight pinprick but did not pay much attention to it.

After sometime that place began to itch. So she scratched herself and then saw a bit of blood on her hands. She assumed that she had caused it. At the end of the show, her friend noticed a sticker on her dress and read the caption. It read "Welcome to the world of AIDS." She tried to pass it off as a practical joke but when she went for a blood test a couple of weeks later (just to be sure), she found herself HIV Positive.

When she complained to the cops, they mentioned that her story was one of the many such cases they had received. It seems the operator uses a syringe to transfer a bit of his/her infected blood to the person sitting ahead of him/her. A horrible experience for the victim as also the family & friends. The WORST bit is that the person who does it gains NOTHING where as the victim loses EVERYTHING. So, be careful...

Welcome to the world of urban folklore! What you have just read, albeit digitally transmitted, is a classic urban legend. More precisely, it's a new variant of a twenty-odd-year-old legend, that of "AIDS Mary."

AIDS Mary

Like her historical prototype Typhoid Mary, AIDS Mary's claim to fame was spreading a deadly disease.

First documented by folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand in his 1989 book, Curses! Broiled Again! (W.W. Norton), the birth of the AIDS Mary story coincided with the most virulent phase of the HIV epidemic in America. It took the form of a cautionary tale.

After a night of casual sex with a woman he doesn't know, the story went, a man wakes up the next morning to find the words "Welcome to the world of AIDS" scrawled in lipstick across his bathroom mirror. Supposedly, the woman had contracted the fatal disease from a previous lover and swore to purposely pass it on to every man she could seduce.

In reality, there was no such person as "AIDS Mary." Notwithstanding the documentation of several cases of HIV carriers knowingly putting multiple partners at risk for the disease by sleeping with them — including one involving an HIV-positive woman who claimed she had unprotected sex with at least two dozen men as an act of revenge — the character of AIDS Mary was a folk invention, an imaginative expression, if you will, of the fear and ignorance that surrounded the epidemic in the mid-1980s.

AIDS by 'stealth injection'

New variants circulating since the late 1990s retain the original punchline — "Welcome to the world of AIDS" — but the plot of the story has taken a decidedly darker and creepier turn.

It's no longer the indulgence in careless sex with a stranger that seals the victims' doom — it's simply a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Innocent people are being randomly chosen for infection by anonymous villains, we are told. It's AIDS by "stealth injection."

Another version of the updated storyline is played out in this forwarded email:

Subject: Important message from Al (SERIOUS)

This could be life or death for somebody. There are these gangs running around Britain sticking HIV-infected needles into people and then handing them a card/leaflet reading 'Welcome To The World of HIV'. This is not a joke or an urban myth, it's actually happened to somebody Fi (the woman whose e-mail I'm using) knows. They've been seen in Brighton and in Crawley, and last night they were active in The Gallery. So you can understand why I'm more than a little anxious about this. Any of us could have been in the Gallery last night, and most of us were planning to go. The idea of this happening to anybody I care about gives me the shits, hence the warning. I'm not trying to scare anybody or make anybody paranoid, but please, be careful and maybe don't go clubbing for a few days. Christ knows you won't be missing much.

This is not a joke. Please forward this. Reply to the address I'm sending this from if you have questions - she's the one who told me about it. These people don't just operate in clubs, they operate on the street, while you're shopping, anywhere, so being paranoid probably isn't the answer. But please, take care. This IS happening and I couldn't take it if it happened to you.

Cheers,
Al.

Folklorists often describe urban legends as "friend-of-a-friend tales" because their subject matter is purely hearsay, usually credited to a thirdhand source. Both of the specimens above display this characteristic.

"An experience of a friend of my brother's wife left me speechless," writes the author of the Bombay version (who turns out to be anything but speechless).

"This is not a joke or an urban myth," pleads the author of the British version, "it's actually happened to somebody Fi (the woman whose email I'm using) knows."

None of the factual claims in these tales are corroborated with evidence. Some are downright ludicrous — for example, the claim made in the Bombay version that the victim got a blood test "a couple of weeks" after the incident and was found to be HIV-positive. Highly unlikely. As of this writing (1998), the incubation period before detectable antibodies emerge in a patient exposed to HIV is typically four to eight weeks, often longer.

We are also asked to swallow the improbable claim that police told one of the victims that hers was only "one of the many such cases they had received." If that's so, why hasn't the press taken an interest? One would think that multiple instances of HIV infection caused by hypodermic-wielding thugs in at least two countries would have incited a full-tilt media frenzy by now. Apparently, reputable news organizations don't find it credible.

Or maybe they're all just waiting for Matt Drudge to break the story.

Last updated 05/21/98