Spread of AIDS in US population appears limited

Top Reagan administration officials in charge of combating the disease AIDS have some cautiously optimistic news. ``There has not appeared to be an explosion'' of the disease into the heterosexual population as there has been among homosexuals, says United States Surgeon General C.Everett Koop.

Just months ago many AIDS specialists were warning that the disease could sweep through heterosexual America.

But Dr. Koop and other top administration health experts say that so far only 4 percent of Americans who contract AIDS have done so through heterosexual acts.

But it's important not to ``mislead people into a false sense of security,'' says Frank Young, commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration.

One reason for caution, Koop says, is that no national statistics are available on how many Americans may be infected with the virus that can turn into the disease. Experts say it can exist in adults for years before AIDS symptoms appear.

Without a national survey it is hard to target AIDS education programs, says Health and Human Services Secretary Otis Bowen. The federal government is in the process of trying to develop a broader survey. But ``it's going to take [longer] than we had hoped,'' he says.

Another reason for caution is that AIDS has spread widely among heterosexuals in parts of Africa. US officials say that this may be due largely to differences in physical circumstances.

Experts say AIDS is introduced into the heterosexual world primarily by the sexual partners of intravenous drug addicts; the latter contract the illness by sharing needles with ailing addicts.

``Getting proper information to drug abusers is a difficult task,'' Dr. Bowen says. ``Getting them to pay attention to it'' is equally as challenging.

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